By Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah Syed
2 October 2015
(Published Exclusively On New Age Islam with Permission of the Authors and Publishers)
Essential Message of Islam
Approved by al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo, Egypt
Endorsed and Introduced by
Khaled Abou El Fadl
Distinguished Islamic Scholar
Professor of Law, UCLA, California
Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah Syed
Scrutinized and restructured by Afra Jalabi
Dedicated to the Prophet Muhammad
(May God’s blessings and peace be upon him),
to whom the Qur’an was revealed for all humanity.
Muslim readers are encouraged to pronounce the benediction, Sallallahu 'Alaihi Wa Sallam (SAW) (rendition inserted above), each time they take or read the Prophet’s name. They will then be fulfilling the Prophet’s Sunna. This book spells out the benediction in the above first instance of the appearance of the Prophet’s name, and leaves the Muslim readers to invoke it as they read through the work
“Will they not, then, ponder over this Qur’an? - or are their hearts sealed”? (al-Qur’an 47:24).
Endorsed And Introduced By:
Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl
This book is endorsed and introduced by one of the most distinguished Islamic scholars, Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl ,who is the Alfi Distinguished Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law, where he teaches International Human Rights, Islamic Jurisprudence, National Security Law, Law and Terrorism, Islam and Human Rights, Political Asylum and Political Crimes and Legal Systems. He was awarded the University of Oslo Human Rights Award, the Leo and Lisl Eitinger Prize in 2007, and was named a Carnegie Scholar in Islamic Law in 2005. He was appointed by President George W. Bush as the only Muslim on the Commission for International Religious Freedom, and also previously served on the Board of Directors of Human Rights Watch. Dr. Abou El Fadl has written 14 books (five forthcoming) and over 50 articles on Islamic law and Islam. His books have been translated into numerous languages including Arabic, Persian, French, Norwegian, Dutch, Ethiopian, Russian, and Japanese. In 2007, his book, “The Great Theft” was named as one of the year’s Top 100 Books by Canada’s Globe and Mail. His book, “The Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Books” is a landmark in contemporary Islamic literature.
By: Khaled Abou El Fadl
The Paradoxes of Islamophobia and the Future of the World
Every epoch of human history has suffered its share of jahl and jahiliyya. Jahl means ignorance, heedlessness, the lack of awareness, and even idiocy or foolishness, but with the clear connotation of the perverse, pernicious, the dark, foreboding, and inauspicious. In Islamic eschatology, it is common to refer to a people plagued by ignorance, injustice, cruelty, and hatred as a people living in a state of jahiliyya. Ingratitude, selfishness, and arrogance are all thought to be characteristics of jahiliyya as well as the prevalence of vice and inequity in any society. Jahiliyya, however, has been as entrenched in human history as the social ailments of bigotry, racism, hatred, and oppression.
But therein is the enduring and unyielding role of Islam—Islam is submission and surrender only to God. And it is resistance and rebellion against the personal jahiliyya of the iniquitous and uprooted soul, and against social conditions and structures that compel the sufferance of ignorance and hatred and that ultimately deny human beings the fair chance to come out to the light. The theology of Islam resists the state of jahiliyya by calling upon human beings to wage a relentless jihad in pursuit of enlightenment and against the oppressiveness of ignorance and against the social and political deformities and illnesses that spread in the absence of justice. The jihad against jahiliyya is a constant struggle to bring balance and peace to one’s own soul, and to pursue balance and peace for one’s society and for humanity. In other words, it is a jihad to bring justice within and without—for oneself and for all of humanity. This jihad is a never-ending effort at self-enlightenment as well as the pursuit of enlightenment at the communitarian and social level. In Islamic theology, a Muslim is in a state of constant resistance to the state of jahl and the disease of jahiliyya—in a sense, in struggling to submit to the Almighty, a Muslim struggles for liberation from and against falling captive to godlessness. Godness is not just a conviction or belief; it is a practice and state of being. And this state, which is quintessentially interconnected with beauty—with the attributes of divinity such as love, mercy, justice, tranquility, humility, and peace—is in direct antipathy to jahiliyya, which in turn is associated with the ailments suffered in a state of godlessness such as hate, cruelty, inequity, arrogance, anxiety, and fear.
As noted above, every time and age suffers from its share of jahiliyya but what is distinctive about the moral failures of our age is not their nature or kind. Indeed the moral failures of our age remain disparagingly similar to past ages. But what is different about our age is that while the moral failures remain the same, more than any other time in the past, these same failures—these jahiliyyas are more inexcusable and less and less understandable. Human beings continue to suffer from ignorance but our ability to teach, learn, and communicate is better than in any previous age. We continue to suffer from hate, bigotry, and racism but our knowledge of human sociology, anthropology and history—our collective experiences as human beings make these failures less understandable, leave alone excusable, than in any other time in history. We continue to wage war and slaughter each other, but at the same time, our ability to kill and cause destruction is more lethal and dangerous than any other time in history. But our co-dependence on each other as human beings, and our increasingly interlinked world, in addition to the unprecedented dangers posed by our weapons make our constant resort to war and violence incoherent and incomprehensible, and definitely, less forgivable than in any other time in history.
In this age, the problem is not our technical abilities or our know-how—the problem is in our will, our sense of purpose, in our normative values, and indeed, in our very comprehension of humanness. Paradoxically, while our collective sense of the humane—our understanding of rights, denial, and suffering—has improved, and while our technical ability to protect rights or remove suffering has also been augmented, our ability to get beyond our isolation and limitations as individuals and to reach for the transcendental and perennial in what is human has deteriorated. In the modern age, our rational sense of the humane has increased but our spiritual grasp of the human has deteriorated. Perhaps this is why so many philosophers have described the modern age as the age of anxiety, restlessness, uprootedness, or groundlessness. Indeed the predicament of the modern age has been that while our intellectual capacities have sprung forth by leaps and bounds, our spiritual abilities, to say the least, have not. Our ability to access information about each other and to collect and organize data about our world has given us a greater sense of control and has raised our expectations as human beings but all of this has done little to raise our sense of consciousness. We can see more of our world and further into the universe than any other time in history, our failure to decipher and perceive the truth of reality, leave alone beauty, has only grown more intense and also inexcusable.
In Islamic thought, we tend to see religion and religiosity as fundamentally antithetical to jahiliyya and all the ugliness that it represents. There is no doubt that throughout human history religion has been a powerful instigator of change—in fact, religion has possessed the power of truly transformative moments in history. Not too many forces in history have had the power of religion to inspire, motivate, and inform. Moreover, many social theorists have recognized the positive, and in my view, necessary role that religion ought to play in remedying many of the ailments suffered in modernity. However, for any true believer—a believer who does not go through the affectations of belief but a person who has felt anchored, inspired, and empowered by belief—for the believer who because of his/her religious conviction was able to reach out for godliness, for the perennial, transcendental, sublime, and beautiful—for that kind of believer, there is no alternative to fending off the jahiliyya of modernity, or of any age for that matter, without the empowerment and the enlightenment of faith. It is precisely for the believer whose engagement with the Divine has translated into nothing but a sense of beauty, peace, balance, and mercy that a particular kind of jahiliyya is more offensive than all others.
This jahiliyya of which I speak is the jahiliyya that is instigated and perpetuated in the name of religion itself. It is when religion is usurped and turned into an instrument of hatred, bigotry, prejudice, ignorance, suffering, and ugliness. As a believer, this deeply offends me because more than ever before I feel that humanity needs the love, mercy, and light of God. To use religion to perpetuate a state of godlessness is to say the least offensive. But as a Muslim, the perpetuation of Jahiliyah in the name of Islam is more than offensive; it is an abomination—it is a complete breakdown in the logic and rationale of existence. As a Muslim, I think of this abomination as a fundamental and inherent contradiction in terms. The two cannot co-exist because the illuminations of God cannot co-exist with the darkness of jahiliyya. But I must admit that in the same way that I find the jahiliyya of those who hate in the name of Islam simply grotesque, I also find the very widespread and sadly trendy jahiliyya of Islam-hating, Islamophobia, and prejudice against Muslims to be no less disturbing.
By my training and education, I am accustomed to dealing with those who hate in Islam’s name by challenging their convictions and arguments with theological and jurisprudential refutations. And for many years, I focused all my teaching and writing on challenging and deconstructing the beliefs and claims of Muslim bigots. However, Islam-hating or Islamophobia poses its own set of exceptional challenges—not only am I not trained to deal with the irrational rage of Islam-haters, in this day and age, Islamophobia leaves one with an intractable sense of despair and hopelessness.
Islam-hating enjoys a long and firmly established pedigree. Unfortunately, Islam-hating is a practice rich with tradition. Starting with the early Muslim challenge to the dominance and hegemony of the Persian andByzantium superpowers around fourteen-hundred years ago, Islam has become the object of highly motivated socio-cultural processes that were hate-filled and hate-promoting. In response to the spread of Islam, an elaborate institutional practice was born in Christian societies, which was supported by a tradition of theological and ideological dogma and ignited by a web of political and social anxieties. The function performed by this institutional practice was, at least initially, defensive and reactive—it sought to contain the threat of Islam not only by promoting cultures plagued by a sense of siege but even more, by a sense of revulsion and outrage at the Muslim heathen. The same processes that constructed the archetypal Muslim who induced fear also nurtured a mythology of a culture at the brink of suffering God’s wrath and damnation because of the Muslim heathen. Leading up to the beginning of the Western Crusades, narratives of piety and anti-heresy re-enforced without adequate private and public performances of outrage and disgust at the infidel (Muslim) society risked incurring God’s vengeance, wrath, and even damnation. Some contemporary historians have argued that the very idea of the West—the very notion of the abode of Christendom, which was historically wedded to the institutions of Catholicism—as a unit defined by a coherent identity, cultural unity, and a basic set of shared political interests developed in direct response to the rise of the Islamic civilization. Feeling challenged, threatened, and also defeated, the West, with its reactively formed identity, perhaps had no choice but to develop narratives of fear and self-preservation directed against Muslims and Islam. In these narratives of fear, anxiety and obsession—narratives that stereotyped, exaggerated, and demonized the Muslim as a symbolic construct, Islam is cast into the role of the eminent and everlasting threat, and the Muslim does not just embody the image of the enemy but is made into the proverbial bogeyman—the infidel whose very existence, leave alone the infidel’s successes and victories, is a horrific blasphemy and outrage against God, King, and Church. In Feudalistic Europe, at a time when political dissent, blasphemy, and heresy were hardly differentiated, Islam was seen as an atrocity against God and majesty, the cause of Divine wrath and damnation.
It took the West, led by the Catholic Church, about four centuries of incitement and sacred rage to build-up the frenzy of intolerance and hate that would fire-up and sustain six-centuries of waves of Western invasions of Muslim lands known as collectively as the Crusades. Contrary to popular belief, the Crusades did not just target the holy land and Jerusalem, but included Andalusia, and eventually Granada, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and even the Eastern Orthodox Church of Constantinople. Eventually, the repeated invasions of the Crusaders were defeated, but not before leaving a trail of fear and hate that eventually culminated in the Ottoman invasions of Eastern Europe. However, hardly had the Ottoman invasions been repulsed and defeated, incidentally without much help from Western Europe, when a new chapter of religious bigotry and hatred had been perpetuated through the pseudo-religious culture of Western Colonialism and its brain-child movement, Orientalism.
As the de-colonization movement surged and nations gained the right to national liberation and self-determination, humanity seemed to be on the verge of unprecedented advancements in finally becoming united over core values, among them tolerance as a necessary and compelling moral and ethical virtue. Of course, I am not claiming that when nations and governments were busily adopting, ratifying, or affirming the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and many international human rights treaties—among other things, banning racial discrimination, religious bigotry, and gender inequality—that these governments actually meant to implement what they pledged themselves to do. The reality, especially from a Muslim point of view, is that the rise of the contemporary regime of human rights and humanitarian institutions and laws is replete with unresolved and perhaps irresolvable contradictions and paradoxical tensions. For Muslims emerging from the hypocritically enlightened and pathologically self-righteous but invariably exploitative and bloody dungeons of Colonialism onto a new age radiating with the glitter of principles such as the right to self-determination, national liberation, non-intervention, and the prohibition against the use of force, the world must have looked very promising but also confusing. The confusion was the by-product of the Cold War and the hypocrisies elicited by the logic of political realism and the doctrine of real-politik; and the confusion and bitterness grew with the reality of aggressive hegemony of contemporary imperialism. But from the very inception of the age of rights, or what I call the age of promises, the confusion started with the destruction of Palestine, the dispossession of Palestinians, and the re-occupation of Jerusalem by the Crusader reminiscent historical movement of “pilgrims from the West.” All of this had to cast doubt upon the credibility and integrity of contemporary ethical universalisms and their inclusiveness towards Muslims. For instance, Muslims could not fail to notice the tension and irony in the fact that 1948, the year that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was passed, was also the year the Palestinians lost their homeland and the Israelis gained theirs. Nevertheless, regardless of the challenges and contradictions that confronted Muslims in the modern age, there is no question that as human beings moved through the 20th century and advanced towards the 21st, there were tangible successes in that, on principle, finally there was collective recognition of the wrongfulness and immorality of racism, ethnocentrism, bigotry, and religious and cultural intolerance, among other vices. Also even if just in principle, a collective recognition and admission was reached that all human beings are, at a minimum, entitled to life, security, and dignity. In other words, in the post-colonial era, and especially by the end of the Cold War, it looked like after centuries of creating and suffering so much man-made misery, at least there were concrete and tangible achievements—finally, human beings have learned something worthwhile.
This is exactly why religious bigotry is so distressing—it is an indication that after all, perhaps we have learned nothing. It is distressing to think that despite the horrendous history of senseless slaughter and persecution, humans do not develop higher states of conscientiousness or more reflective and balanced senses of being but only grow ever more sophisticated in obfuscating the difference between reality and dreams. The currently trendy phenomenon of Islamophobia and the lucrative business of Islam-slamming ominously condemn us to recycling history through the irrational processes of reciprocated hate. But it is much more than the fear of repeating history that is at stake here.
Today is not like yesterday, and tomorrow will be more different still. Muslims are no longer the representatives of a dominant civilization and are not co-participants in defining the norms of our lived world. No part of the Muslim world could be considered coherent units of integrated economic and political power as in the cases of Europe, Russia, China, or India, and Muslims leverage very limited actual power in their lived world. But according to the dogma of the modern world, wars of aggression and foreign occupation are no longer permitted, and unlike pre-modern barbarisms, people and individuals need not rely on their ability to leverage power because all human beings and all nations have rights. Indeed the very idea of rights—the raison d’être of humanitarian protections and immunities is founded on the notion of protecting the weakest elements of society—whether nationally or internationally, rights exist to protect those who are members of target groups or those who are members of groups that are in weak and insular positions, and therefore, unable to protect themselves. Today, the whole paradigm of world order and international law is founded on the notion that instead of the protection of force, the weak should be able to rely on the protection of principle or, alternatively, on principled protection. In other words, today’s world is different than any other age because today there is authoritative legality in the world order and in principle, there is rule of law.
I am not so naïve as to believe that the United Nations is truly a parliament of democratic governance or that the Security Council implements international law impartially and fairly or to think that most international legal obligations are applied fairly and impartially. But the gap between the reality and the ideal is what makes the contemporary condition so precarious for Muslims. There is not a single permanent member of the Security Council that is Muslim, and in this age, Muslims play a largely marginal role in governing or influencing global issues. In fact, the fate and well-being of most Muslim countries in the modern world depends on the good faith and fair-mindedness of the non-Muslim world powers towards Muslims—the opposite is not true.
Considering the distribution and structure of power in the modern age, much of the role of Muslims in today’s world and much of what is done to and with Muslim nations is contingent on two critical presumptive premises: 1) The major powers that run the world today are no longer motivated by religious bias or rancour. Policy pursued by these world powers does not seek to promote or harm one set of religious beliefs over others, and does not favour or disfavour a people or nation because they belong to one religious tradition or another. Put differently, the dominant powers of the world do not govern in the name of Western Christendom, and their economic and political powers are not used to leverage the supremacy of the Judeo-Christian civilization, for instance, against others. 2) The decisions and policies of the dominant operative powers in today’s world are based on rational choices and shared interests and not on historical, racial, religious bias or any other type of prejudice.
Among other things, these two presumptive premises fundamentally mean that religious wars have ended and that we live in a rationally driven world. Without the fulfilment of these two premises, the reality becomes that Muslims live in a world that they do not control, and more so, in a world in which they do not have much power, and they also live in a world in which they are very likely to become the targets, and considering their limited power, even victims of bigoted policies. Now, I think that it is rather obvious that these two premises are not perfectly fulfilled and indeed, can never be perfectly fulfilled. World powers that have near hegemonic influence on today’s world are not immune to the numerous subjectivities that normally affect decision making. What is important, however, is not if these two premises are fulfilled but the extent to which they are fulfilled at any given time. For example, the rule of law and world order in the modern age is premised on the assumption of the illegitimacy and wrongfulness of racially biased policies but no one would seriously suggest that racism wittingly or unwittingly does not affect the subjectivities of policy makers. This, however, is one of the reasons that Islamophobia and Islam-hating is emblematic of the foundational failures of the modern age—policies that target or profile Muslims as a group, or that speak of the dangers of a Muslim cultural invasion of Europe, or that legitimate the denouncement and deprecation of the Islamic faith, very much like the institution and logic of Apartheid, undermine the fundamental structure of legitimacy in the modern age. In this regard, there are many reasons to be very concerned.
Policies that are founded on the presumed inherent dangers of Islamic theology or law; or policy makers who effectively legitimate religious bigotry by seeking the “expert” counsel of professional Islam-haters do nothing less than undermine the very logic that provides structure and authoritativeness to order of this age. I emphasize that the problem is not the existence of discrete and surreptitious religious bigotry—the problem is the fact that this religious bigotry is rationalized, and legitimated; it is cleansed of all sense of shame or fault and then stated as a normative value: the truth that needs to be uncovered. Here, the evidence on the ground, so-to-speak, is shocking, deeply troubling and overwhelming. For example, since 2002, thousands of books published in the United States and Europe spewed sheer hateful venom against Islamic theology, law, and history. More troubling is the fact that many of these pseudo-intellectualized displays of bigotry became massive bestsellers in Western countries. The writers of these hate-filled tracts were endowed with star status in the West as they consistently appeared as authoritative voices on everything Muslim in the media and were integrated into positions of authority by being given various institutional roles either as advisors to governments, members of government, or references for specialized agencies within government. Part of the very widespread phenomenon of religious bigotry was the opportunistic and parasitical celebration and promotion of so-called native informants—people who fit the Muslim ethnic and cultural profile, claimed either that they are Muslim or used to be Muslim, and above all were willing to perform the dramatic role of the archetypal Muslim who gazes in the mirror only to discover his/her hideous ugliness (contrasted of course to the beauty of the non-Muslim other), and then overcome by tragic destiny, he/she plunges in cathartic self-flagellation (or more precisely, Islam flagellation), which comes to the entirely predictable realization that all the ugliness in the mirror after all is Islam’s fault. Of course, for the bigoted, but paying, reader’s ecstatic enjoyment, the native-informant climactically confesses Islam’s sins and bombastically declares, lest it be damned, Islam and of course Muslims too, must repent! The classic and also the most indulgently obnoxious examples of this pornographically-oriented exploitation of non-religiosity, or perhaps anti-religiosity, are the money-raking books of Hirshi Ali and Irshad Manji.
What fuels the Islam-hating industry in the West is that many sincerely believe that they are reacting rationally to a cultural, political, and militaristic threat. But it is important to remember that every social movement that has demonized a feared and hated other has constructed its hate-narrative as an unpleasant but necessary defensive response to a perceived threat—whether real or imagined. The very nature of bigotry and prejudice is that they are paranoid reconstructions of reality—they grossly exaggerate a kernel of truth into an enormous lie. So, for instance, bigots do not imagine that Muslim terrorists exist but they imagine that terrorism is the prevailing reality of Islam.
What is especially troubling about Islam-hating is that it is a powerful indication that the West, which led the world into modernity, has been unable to overcome its own historically rooted religious prejudices and bigotry. Islam-hating and Islamophobia are among the few remaining sanitized and legitimate social pathologies in the West not because bigotry against Islam and Muslims is practiced or tolerated, but because it is affirmatively honoured and even glorified as part of the analytical discipline of national security and interest.
In some regards, Islam-hating and Islamophobia is fairly unremarkable because like all prejudices, it is rationalized from a defensive posture and it thrives in a fertile ground of misinformation and ignorance. But what is remarkable about this particular form of prejudice and bigotry is that despite its deep roots in history—although it was exploited in the past to rationalize and incite numerous acts of aggression and violence and although it continues to do so today, there is remarkable resistance in the West to acknowledging its existence or to coming to terms with the crimes committed because of it, leave alone to attempt to atone for its consequences. A person who openly advocates racism, for instance, or anti-Semitism will be seen as a pariah and an outlier to mainstream society. No mainstream publisher or media outlet will broadcast speech that is openly racist or anti-Semitic not because these social ills do not exist. They do exist! But there are social processes that shame, ostracize and hold accountable those who blatantly indulge these pathologies. The same is not true for those Islam or Muslim-haters. For example, intellectuals and policy makers are admirably frank about studying, admitting, and atoning for the Western legacy of anti-Semitism. Studies that document and analyze the pathology of anti-Semitism have emerged into a sophisticated critical discipline, and no serious intellectual would question whether anti-Semitism has been a recurring form of prejudice and bigotry in Western history. Logically, however, if one admits that anti-Semitism is a widespread social pathology that must be resisted and not encouraged, it would seem to follow that substantially the same position should be adopted in regards to anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia. Put simply, one can hardly imagine any place or time in Europe where Jews were persecuted while Muslims were tolerated. Without exception, any time Jews were the target of persecution in Western history, this persecution included the archetypal representative of Islam of the time—whether that archetype was the Turk, Arab, Saracen, Morisco, or the Mohammedan. Moreover, as is well illustrated by the complex and problematic notion of a Judeo-Christian culture or civilization, the history of Jews in the West was a complex one—it ebbed and flowed and went back and forth between begrudging tolerance to outright persecution to eventual efforts at reconciliation and, at times, to atonement as in the Western guilt-ridden support for the Zionist movement. But the history of Muslims in the West has consistently ranged from slaughter to begrudging tolerance to extermination and eventually to total and unequivocal hegemony and domination. My point is that if examined from a historical logic, the reluctance, dead-silence, and quiet avoidance that confronts the Muslim victims of religious persecution in the West and that confronts researchers in the pathology of Islamophobia and Islam-hating is itself a shocking manifestation of the pathology. What is rather symptomatic of the deeply engrained prejudice is the continuous effort to justify Muslim suffering as an unfortunate but necessary cost for security, or to understate and minimize the existence of actual concrete and harmful results to the existence of such a prejudice. An example of this is the insistence on the part of some that the use of torture against Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere is not linked to deeply rooted prejudices as to the ego, pride, sexuality, religiosity, and body of a Muslim man or woman. Another common tactic that is actually symptomatic of the deep entrenchment of the problem is to admit that anti-Muslim prejudice exists but to minimize it as a passing condition instead of a pathology with a stubbornly persistent history, or to dilute its particularity and distinctiveness by dismissively equating it to other prejudices and biases minorities suffered, and that in due time, defeated. The relatively muted response of the intelligentsia in the West at the widespread occurrence of civil rights violations against Muslims in the West, and also in reaction to the documented humanitarian violations and war crimes inflicted upon Muslims in several countries and contexts in the name of the war on terror is again a strong indication of the de-sensitization and suppressed consciousness of the West towards the presence and wrongfulness of anti-Muslim prejudices. Sadly, the West has managed to confront many of the demons of its history, but its fear of Muslims and hate of Islam is one demon that has proven too powerful to confront.
The one thing that the so-called war on terror has shown is the fragility of the Western ego, which as already explained, was inordinately shaped by its antithesis to Islam. After the terrorist attack of 2001 on the USA, it is truly remarkable how quickly so many intellectuals and policy makers were willing to abandon the arduous human labour that took human beings through two world wars, and that painfully created the structure of legitimacy for the world in the 21st century, only to revert back to the dichotomous paradigms of the good versus evil, the forces of light against the forces of darkness, the knights of Christendom versus infidel barbarians, the clash of civilizations, and ultimately, the satanic religion that is out to haunt the world with demonic forces. The fragility of the Western ego leaves one wondering: if murderous terrorist attacks can generate such a powerfully effective and lucrative hate culture in the enlightened West what could centuries of colonization, occupation, and brutalization produce in the Muslim world?
This, however, seems to me to be the wrong kind of question or at least, it seems to be a dangerous question. As the Qur’an consistently teaches, one injustice cannot justify another—in the same way that no amount of terrorism committed by people who affiliate themselves with the Islamic faith may possibly justify religious prejudice and bigotry, no amount of persecution or oppression may excuse or justify the harming or terrorizing of civilians in order to protest an injustice. I believe that the most rudimentary and basic moral order would recognize that if injustice is reciprocated by further injustice, we do not somehow miraculously end up with a just situation or with justice achieved. But this itself points to a quintessential affinity between all acts of terrorism—no matter the trappings, the ugliness remains the same. Whether terrorism is committed by a particular group holding a person hostage in order to win certain concessions, or by an army holding a population hostage in order to force submission to its will, the moral quality of the act is the same. This, of course, is in moral theory alone; reality is very different. In legal theory, for instance, the rich and the poor are treated according to the same standards of justice—although an ideal, it is seldom fulfilled. Nevertheless, the ideal must remain the normative yardstick and the failures of reality must never be treated as normatively correct.
This is precisely why I find Islamophobia and Islam-hating so unsettling—it is not a concession to reality while upholding the ideal; it is a corruption of reality while deforming the ideal. Islam-hating is extreme in its ugliness because it stands everything on its head; it twists and distorts the space that Muslims are pushed into occupying in the modern age. If it is allowed to persist then the whole Muslim experience since Colonialism becomes nothing but a deceptive fantasy. This prejudice does not only mean the failure of the ideals upon which modernity was built; and a regression to the exploitatively religious wars of the Crusades and counter-crusades, but worst of all, it means that religion will be denied the role of the medicinal healer to the jahiliyya suffered in this age.
Among its endlessly circular and incoherently inconsistent long list of wrongs, Islamophobia rationalizes the continued victimization of disempowered people by dreaming-up conspiracy theories in which the offenders pretend to be the victims. It claims that because Muslims are plagued by paranoid conspiracy theories, Muslims have a weak grasp of reality, but simultaneously, Islamophobes imagine every Muslim with a pulse to be a co-conspirator in a massive plot for world domination. Islamophobes smugly declare that Muslims do not have cultural commitments to human rights and self-servingly, announce that any commitment to human rights by a Muslim culture is not authentic, and therefore, insincere. By the same logic, Shari’a is denounced as fundamentally inconsistent with human rights, but at the same time, any jurisprudential doctrine consistent with human rights cannot be an authentic part of Shari’a. This circular logic goes on and on: Islamophobia perpetuates violence and many abuses against Muslims by claiming that Muslims are not really victims because Muslims are inherently violent; it re-affirms its lies by accusing every challenge to its hate-filled view of Muslims to be a lie. It justifies the disproportionate and indiscriminate slaughter of Muslims as moral and just while contently claiming that Muslims lack a just war tradition. Islamophobes preach hate against Islam because by definition Islam only teaches hate. Islamophobes will gloat about how they belong to cultures that cherish the idea of liberty but as a matter of course, will denounce any Muslim movement that claims the right to self-determination or that demands the right to live free of foreign occupation. Islamophobes will accuse of Muslims of despotism and of being incapable of practicing democracy but at the same time, they will seek to exclude Islamic parties from participation in democratic governance. Similarly, Islamophobes will vigilantly support the right of Christian parties or Christian organizations to be actively engaged in the political field and will defend Jewish religious parties calling for the application of Jewish law as a necessary part of the exercise of democracy. Meanwhile, they transform a bogeyman labelled political Islam into the embodied reincarnation of fascist ideology. Islamophobes pretend to honour the right to freedom of belief but spew nothing but venom at those who believe in Islam as their spiritual and moral system of guidance. Sadly, however, as is the case with most prejudices and biases, the problem is not the absence of reasoning or the paucity of accurate information. Most prejudices and biases persist because of the lack of moral will—the will to adopt conscientious and ethical positions towards others, especially those who because of habit or interest we have a reason to hate.
For those who have the moral will, the book I introduce here will prove to be an invaluable reference source on the Islamic faith. For those who do not wish to be participants in the perpetuation of religious bigotry and hate, this book will provide an accurate, thoughtful, and reliable introduction to Muslim beliefs and practices. I wish we lived in a world in which this book would become a standard reference source for students of religion who are interested in an accurate introduction to the religion of Islam. The best thing I can say about this book is that it is the product of a labour of love that lasted for more than a decade. The authors do not offer a personalized view of their own religiosity; they explain in a very straightforward and accessible fashion what mainstream Muslims believe in and especially, what the Qur’an itself teaches. Non-Muslims will understand why well over a billion people call themselves Muslim and also how Islam inspires Muslims to deal with and improve upon the world in which they live. Indeed this book manages to translate the Muslim vision or the way that Islam heals the ailments of humanity in the current age and every age. Readers who wish to learn the theological and moral dogma of Islam will find this book indispensable. But this book is not just an informative tool for the fair-minded and interested reader. This book is an educational tool for both Muslims and non-Muslims—it is an authoritatively reliable text to teach young Muslims, or even Muslims who never had the time to study the Qur’an, or the fundamentals of their religion. The book is written with the kind of balance and fair mindedness that makes it equally valuable for Muslim and non-Muslim students of Islam. The least I can say about this text is that it was written by two ethically conscientious and principled Muslims in order to share their religion with every ethically conscientious and principled reader in the world. They must be heard.
Dr. Khaled M. Abou El Fadl
Alfi Distinguished Professor of Islamic law
UCLA School of Law
Islamic Research Academy
For Research, Writing & Translation
Shaikh: Al-Sa'eed Abdelhafez Mohammad Ghars El-din
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Dept of Research, Writing & Translation
Seal of Al-Azhar General Directorate
Of Research, Writing & Translation
1. The Quranic Revelation and Compilation............... 1
1.1. Social and moral setting of pre-Islamic Arabia................ 1
1.2. The Qur'anic revelation.......................... 2
1.3. Genesis, literary grandeur and consistency................................................ 3
1.4. Memorization / recording during the Prophet's lifetime............. 4
1.5. Final compilation and authentication.............. 5
1.6. Historical accuracy of Qur'anic records.................. 6
2. The Text of the Qur’an................ 10
2.1. Essence of Faith.................... 10
2.2. Reference to past and Biblical Prophets / Scriptures...... 11
2.3. Qur’anic guidance is broad based and universal...... 12
2.4. Qur’anic commandments are not gender biased.......... 14
2.5. The Transformative human language of the Qur’an....... 14
2.6. Manual handling of the Arabic Qur’an............ 15
2.7. The Qur’an’s clue to its mysterious character........ 16
3. MUHAMMAD AND THE PROPHETIC MISSION......... 21
3.1. Meccan Period (610-622).............. 22
3.2. Medinite Period (622-632)......... 26
3.3. Battle of Badr (625)....................... 28
3.4. Battle of Uhud (625)................ 30
3.5. The Hypocrites……………32
3.6. The Native Jews................... 32
3.7. Battle of Confederates (The Trench war) (627)........... 34
3.8. Hudaybiyah Peace Treaty (628)......... 36
3.9. Peace treaty with the Jews of Khaybar (629)...... 37
3.10. Mecca Reconciled (630)........... 38
3.11. The battle of Hunayn (630)........ 39
3.12. Tabuk Expedition (631)......... 39
3.13. Year of deputations (631)......... 41
3.14. The Qur’an constantly guides and assures the Prophet...... 42
3.15. The Prophet’s status in the community....... 44
3.16. The noble persona of the Prophet....... 45
3.17. Extraordinary features of the Prophetic mission......... 48
4. Qur’anic Reflections on Nature............ 64
4.1. Movement of heavenly bodies in orbits......... 64
4.2. Creation of Heaven and Earth......... 65
4.3. Earth's geography............ 66
4.4. Wind, rain and water cycle............ 66
4.5. Plant and animal world................. 67
4.6. God has created everything in pairs............. 67
4.7. Human Embryology............ 68
4.8. Mysteries of nature that have come to light only in recent times......... 69
4.9. Summing Up.............................. 70
5. Creation of Human Being................. 73
5.1. Creation of Adam as God’s deputy (khalifah) on earth....... 73
5.2. Man's Creative evolution from the elements...... 75
5.3. God inspires humans with divine spirit........... 75
6. The Day of Judgement............. 78
6.1. Qur’anic description of the Day of Judgment.......................................... 78
6.2. Qur'anic description of Paradise and Hell............................................... 79
6.3. The relevance of punishment in the Qur’anic discourse............ 80
6.4. Qur'anic explanation of its description of Paradise and Hell...... 81
6.5. The Qur’an’s reminder on the recreation of human being.......... 82
7. The Broader Notion of Din Al-Islam............... 85
7.1. Service to humanity as the essence of din al-Islam........... 86
7.2. Corroboration from Islamic and secular sources................ 87
8. The Broader Notion of Taqwa (Heedfulness)............... 89
8.1. Universal notion of Taqwa (heedfulness).............. 89
9. Universal Brotherhood of Humanity........... 91
9.1. Diversity of race, colour and language............... 91
9.2. Religious Tolerance................................ 92
9.3. No discrimination against non-Muslims..................... 93
9.4. Plurality of Faiths.................................. 93
9.5. Good deeds as a common criterion for divine approval.......... 95
9.6. God may pardon those who had no means of guidance.......... 95
9.7. Brotherhood of humanity................ 96
9.8. The Case of Apostasy........................................ 97
10. Universality of Knowledge................. 100
10.1. Division of knowledge in medieval Islam....... 101
10.2. Significance of scientific knowledge in Islam........ 102
11. The Universal Notion of Jihad....................... 105
11.1. A broad definition based on Qur’anic illustrations......... 105
11.2. Jihad of the Prophet’s followers in Mecca........... 105
11.3. Jihad of the Medinite Muslims............ 106
11.4. The role of the greater struggle (jihad Kabir................ 107
11.5. The demise of the notion of greater Jihad in Islam............. 108
12. Non-Violence and Defensive Warfare........................... 110
12.1. Qur’anic model of non-violence.................... 110
12.2. Resistance to persecution.............. 110
12.3. Permission to fight against oppression................ 111
12.4. Exhortations to fight an attacking army............ 112
12.5. Fighting is condemned but justified on specific grounds............ 113
12.6. The ultimate goal is peaceful coexistence............ 114
12.7. The Qur’an does not approve of violent acts............ 115
12.8. Read in isolation, verses on contemporary battles can be misleading 116
12.9. Fighting against the People of the Book............. 117
12.10. The broader notion of Jizyah.................. 117
13. The Qur’an and the People of the Book............. 121
13.1. Historical context of inter-faith relation.............. 121
13.2. The Qur’an approves of some of the People of the Book.......... 122
13.3. On dealing with the People of the Book................ 123
13.4. There is no Qur’anic basis to hate Christians and Jews
or any community ........... 125
14. Only God Knows The Rightly Guided.............. 128
14.1. None can claim spiritual superiority................... 128
15. The Prophet as a Role Model....... 131
16. Good Deeds............ 134
16.1. Verses on Good Deeds from early Meccan Suras 2................................ 134
16.2. Verses from mid and late Meccan Suras 3................................................ 135
16.3. Verses from Medinite Suras 4..................................................................... 136
16.4. Cardinal Significance of Good deeds in Islam............... 137
17. Social Responsibility..................... 140
17.1. Qur’anic warning against selfishness............... 140
17.2. Broader social responsibilities................... 140
17.3. Kindness to people of all faiths......................... 141
17.4. Kindness to parents........................... 142
18. Spending Money on the Needy................. 145
18.1. To spend in one’s lifetime 1................... 145
18.2. To budget the charity within one’s means............... 146
18.3. Charity may be given openly or secretly................ 146
18.4. Not to hurt the recipient’s sentiments................... 146
18.5. Ignoring ill feelings while helping others.................. 147
18.6. Giving only the good things in charity............. 147
18.7. Curbing one’s inborn greed and desires........... 147
18.8. The recipient categories of charity................... 148
18.9. The Qur’an discourages beggary....................... 149
19. Moral Ethics................................. 151
19.1. General moral precepts.................... 151
19.2. Qur’anic broader notion of Halal and Haram................. 154
19.3. Qur’anic broader notion of heedfulness (Taqwa)......... 154
20. General Behavioural Norms......................... 157
20.1. Restraining anger, forgiveness, courtesy,
Avoiding conflict, and self-reproach 157
20.2. Arrogance, loud talk, and listening
to whispers are condemned....... 157
20.3. Slandering, fault-finding, contempt and excessive
Suspicion are condemned ...... ...158
20.4. Good conduct at places of worship...................... 159
21. ON JUSTICE.................. 160
21.1. Upholding of Justice is a binding instruction............. 160
21.2. To guide others truthfully for Justice to prevail................ 161
21.3. Criteria of Divine Justice...................... 161
21.4. The primacy of Justice in the Qur’an........................... 162
22. Fraud, Bribery, Cheating Are Forbidden................. 164
22.1. Usurping others’ property............................ 164
22.2. Tampering of weight and measurement.................. 164
22.3. Fair payment for goods and services................... 165
23. Against Usury And Over-Profiteering................................... 168
23.1. The Qur’an forbids usury (Riba).............. 168
23.2. On easing debt repayment and writing off debt.................................... 168
23.3. Qur’anic notion of Riba....................... 169
23.4. Is Modern banking based on Riba? ................. 169
23.5. The lawfulness of modern banking................... 171
24. On Debt And Contract........................ 174
24.1. On the drafting of a commercial contract............. 174
24.2. Why two women to substitute
for one man for
a witness? ................... 175
25. Allowables & Forbidden For Food............. 179
25.1. The Qur’an abolishes the prevalent taboos.............. 179
25.2. The Qur’an allows all lawful and good things............... 179
25.3. Food of the ‘People of the Book’............... 180
25.4. The Qur’an forbids only a few things................... 181
26. Intoxicants & Gambling................ 184
26.1. Qur’anic exhortations against
intoxicants and gambling.................. 184
26.2. Supreme significance of deeds and
heedfulness (Taqwa)............. 185
27. Thoughtless Oaths............................... 188
28. On Personal Clothing And Modesty................... 191
28.1. Significance of clothing for humanity....................... 191
28.2. Orthodox view on dressing norms for women..................... 192
28.3. Textual analysis of the Qur’anic injunction (24:31)............. 192
28.4. Qur’anic universal guidelines on modesty...................... 194
28.5. The Qur’an makes concession for elderly women............ 194
28.6. Dressing guideline for the Prophet's
household and other Muslim women... 195
28.7. Influence of pre-Islamic heritage on women’s dress code................... 195
29. Bidding the Good And Forbidding The Evil........................ 198
29.1. To enjoin the good and forbid the evil.............. 198
29.2. Admonitions against all forms of vices............... 199
29.3. The Qur’an is lenient with the repentant and stern to the arrogant.. 200
30. The Abolition of Slavery.............. 203
30.1. Phased abolition of slavery............... 203
30.2. Qur’anic positive phrase for slaves and bondmaids.......... 205
31. Protection of Orphans / Orphaned Women.......... 209
31.1. Qur’anic laws protecting orphans and women............. 209
31.2. The Qur’an recommends monogamy as a social norm........... 211
32. Marriage Eligibility for Muslims......... 216
32.1. Wedlock with polytheist is forbidden...................................................... 216
32.2. Muslim men and women to choose their spouses................................... 216
32.3. Muslim men to marry any believing women............................................ 217
32.4. The Qur’an abolishes Incest........................ 218
32.5. The Qur’an forbids extramarital cohabitation..................... 219
32.6. The Qur’an does not support marriage of minors............ 219
33. Man, Woman, Sex and Marriage...................... 222
33.1. Love and mercy between the sexes is a ‘sign’ of God............................ 222
33.2. Sexual relation between the spouses............ 222
33.3. Women during their menstruation................. 223
33.4. Men to give women dower at the time of marriage........ 224
33.5. Women are entitled to independent income.............. 224
33.6. Role of men and women in wedlock....................... 225
33.7. Qur’an’s worldview on women’s role in society................ 228
33.8. The Qur’an overrules any notion of male superiority............ 229
33.9. Paradox of linking Islam with misogynistic customs............. 230
34. DIVORCE PROCEDURES AND CONDITIONS.................... 235
34.1. Qur’an recognizes the emotional trauma of a divorce....... 235
34.2. Principles concerning a divorce initiated by a man.......... 236
34.3. A woman can initiate a divorce unilaterally (khul).............. 238
34.4. Remarriage between spouses after irrevocable divorce........... 238
34.5. Maintenance of divorced pregnant wife
, and the offspring.......... 240
34.6. Settlement of dower if neither marriage
is consummated nor dower fixed .... 241
34.7. Settlement of dower if marriage is not consummated, but dower is fixed ..... 242
34.8. Maintenance for a divorced woman...................... 242
34.9. Clarification on the waiting period (Iddah)......... 243
34.10. The Qur’an forestalls any manipulative interpretation of its commandments ..... 244
35. Status Of Widows....................... 247
35.1. Widows have same social status as unmarried women......................... 247
35.2. Financial security of a widow.................... 247
36. Against Unlawful Intimacy......................... 251
36.1. Sexual norms of pre-Islamic Arabia................ 251
36.2. Qur’anic punishment for adultery..................... 252
36.3. Object of the Qur’anic punishment for adultery........... 254
36.4. Qur’anic punishment for slandering against women......... 254
36.5. The case of the offspring of an unwedded mother.......... 255
36.6. Establishing sexual offence against one’s wife, if there is no witness 255
36.7. Broader Qur’anic message relating to adultery.......... 256
36.8. Sexual offences............................... 257
36.9. The Qur’an condemns homosexuality............................. 257
37. Drawing Up Of Wills..................................... 260
38. Law of Inheritance................ 263
38.1. Broader logic and rationale of Qur’anic inheritance laws................ 263
38.2. General principles of inheritance............................................................ 264
38.3. Division of Inheritance among Survivors............................................... 264
38.4. Rendition of the referred to verses:....................... 265
38.5. Why a daughter’s inheritance is half that of her brother.......... 267
38.6. The Principle of Representation.................. 267
39. Abolition of Blood Vendetta................. 269
39.1. Law of Compensation for the loss of life............. 270
40. Exemplary Punishments for Major Crimes............ 272
40.1. Flexibility in the application of Qur’anic punishments................. 273
41. Allurements of Worldly Life.................... 276
41.1. Man’s innate passion for wealth, women, glory and power................ 276
41.2. Greed for allurements of life is the singular promoter of poverty...... 278
41.3. Recreations, Entertainment and Art forms.................... 280
42. Conducting Community Affairs.......................... 282
42.1. Consultation in conducting affairs.................... 282
42.2. Collateral forgiveness...................... 283
42.3. Role of Muslims as witnesses to humanity................. 283
42.4. Notion of Islamic state................... 285
42.5. The birth and flowering of the Islamic Caliphate................................. 285
43. Principles Of ‘Human Rights’..................... 289
43.1. The Qur’an is not an outcome of a charter of demands....................... 289
43.2. Privileges and obligations of men and women as individuals........... 289
43.3. Privileges and obligations of men and women as spouses.................. 290
43.4. To avail of a minimal income and social benefits................................. 291
43.5. To live peacefully, without any disturbance or threat......................... 292
43.6. Privacy at home.................................... 293
43.7. Care and Support of the physically challenged................ 293
43.8. The duty of grown up children to support their parents........ 294
43.9. General universal privileges................. 294
44. The Five Pillars of Faith and Shahadah.......... 297
44.1. Pillars of Faith....................... 297
44.2. The Shahadah - The Declaration of faith........... 298
45. The Canonical Daily Prayers..................... 300
45.1. Congregational prayer............................................................................... 301
45.2. Introduction of prayer call, the Adhan.................................................... 302
45.3. Significance of Salah.................................................................................. 303
46. The Zakat (Obligatory Charity)............................................... 308
46.1. Evolution of the institution of Zakat........................................................ 308
46.2. Present day implications of the traditional model of Zakat................ 308
46.3. The Qur’anic notion of Zakah (pl. Zakat)............ 309
47. HAJJ – THE PILGRIMAGE TO MECCA............ 312
47.1. Sacrifice of animal is symbolic – the goal is Taqwa......... 313
48. FASTING – IN THE MONTH OF RAMADAN............... 315
48.1. General conditions on fasting................ 316
48.2. The stated goal of Fasting..................... 316
1. Encl.1 The Prophet's Earliest Biography.............................. 320
1.1. Inherent limitations of early biographic accounts........ 320
1.2. Impact of early accounts on modern scholarship......... 321
2. Encl. 2 Muhammad’s Marriages............ 329
3. Encl. 3 Polemics Surrounding the Prophet of Islam..... 335
4. Encl. 4 Sunnah of the Prophet and the Hadith Literature 338
4.1. Compilation of the current Hadith literature........................................ 340
4.2. Effect of time on the screening process of the Hadith literature........ 340
1. Theological Development in Islam.............. 346
1.1. Founding of the sciences of Tafsir and Asbab al-Nuzul [The first century of Islam].1 347
1.2. Fundamental Juristic Principles and Notions [The first century of Islam] 347
1.3. Theological doctrines [The second century of Islam]......................... 348
1.4. Emergence of diverse juristic views [The second century of Islam].. 349
1.5. Infallibility of the consensus (ijma‘) of scholars [The 2nd – 3rd centuries of Islam] 350
1.6. The doctrine of precedence (taqlid) [3rd – 4th centuries of Islam]... 350
1.7. The rise and fall of Mu‘tazila school and emergence of orthodox Sunni Islam [3rd –6th centuries]. 351
1.8. Broadening the scope of exegesis (tafsir) [The fourth century of Islam onwards] 352
1.9. Summing Up.................... 353
1.1. Today’s relevance of Shari‘a Law............................................................ 357
1.2. Sectarianism and Islam............................................................................... 360
1.3. Final note of appeal for Muslims............................................................. 362
1.4. Note of reassurance for non-Muslims...................................................... 364
1.1. Contemporary (20th century) exegetic scholars/website..................... 368
1.2. Early Muslim religious scholars............................................................... 368
1.3. Other contemporary / recent sources....................................................... 368
During the nearly fifteen year span of development of this work, the authors have had informal discussions and exchange of views with people of differing backgrounds and age groups – from youngsters to the very old, and from the modernist to the ultra conservative. All these people contributed to the work, either through their enthusiastic support, or by word of caution and criticism. We would like to thank all of them without naming, as there are so many of them. However, the contribution of some of our contacts has been remarkable and deserving of special mention.
Dr. Murad Hofmann, the renowned contemporary Islamic scholar, reviewed the ‘draft in progress’ dating from 1996. His periodic comments led to a gradual upgrading of the work with minimization of faults and errors, expansion of resource base and improvement in the organization, layout and literary merit of the work. Professor Muhammad Abulaylah of al-Azhar University - whom one of the authors personally met inCairo (1997) with the first English draft, insisted on the need to attaining a high level of perfection. His suggestions precipitated in the deletion of some superfluous commentaries leading to a consolidation and improvement of the work, which in the initial stage lacked focus and scholarship. Sheikh al-Saeed Gharseldin of al-Azhar Academy (Canada) presented the improved draft to the office of Sheikh al-Azhar (1999),Cairo and actively helped its subsequent improvement, and inclusion of the Arabic script, through to its authentication and approval to proceed with the publication (2002). Dr. Jeffrey Lang (of the University ofKansas, USA, a contemporary Islamic scholar) read the final draft back-to-back (2000), and made encouraging comments that inspired the authors to press on with the work with their selfless zeal. Dr. Louay Safi, Director of Publications of the International Institute of Islamic thoughts, supported the work and offered to sponsor its publication if required (2003). Muhammad Arif critically screened the drafts in progress dating from the inception of the work (1993), and assisted in checking the verse numberings, cross references, and in detecting obvious flaws, and in the development of arguments and inferences as presented in the work. Tareque Mahmood Khan combed through the work minutely and detected flaws, and ‘gaps’ leading to finer and vital improvements in some of the chapters. Ashrafuddin Ahmed, a conservative Muslim of the older generation engaged in Qur’anic studies for over a decade went through the entire draft and gave a green signal. The work has also benefited from a computer based indexing exercise that one of the authors had conducted and published as this work was in progress.
Last but not least, the authors are grateful to Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl (Professor of Law, University of California Law Academy, USA), for his invaluable help in guiding them by personally editing the first four chapters of the draft manuscript in long hand, assisted with taped commentaries (2004, 2009) on some salient features of the Prophet’s mission and Islamic Law. Dr. Fadl also appointed an editor, Afra Jalabi, a Syrian born, Western educated upcoming scholar of Islam, settled in Canada (2006). Fluent and scholarly in both English and Arabic and knowledgeable in the Qur’an which she teaches to international students, she went through the MS back-to-back and made many corrections, refinements, commentaries, and suggested a reorganization of chapters as now adopted in this book.
Finally, the authors also register their thanks and appreciation to their family members, relatives and friends for their consistent help and support.
1. Reference material: A Glossary of the Qur’an, Aurnag Zeb Azmi, New Delhi 2003.
2. Rendition of verses and transliterated Arabic terms are italicized, while those normally adapted in English (Qur’an, Hadith, Shari‘a, the Prophet’s Sunna, Sura, Ka‘ba), are in Roman, capitalized, and the terminal silent ‘h’ where present is omitted
3. Extra-literal typographic symbols such as dots and over bars are avoided except for i) indicating the Arabic ayn (‘) - such as in ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, ‘Uthman Ibn ‘Affan, and ii) the Arabic hamza or the glottal stop (’). The names of historical figures adapted in English, such as Umar, Uthman, Ali are, however, typed as such, except when giving their full Arabic names.
A.H. [After hijrah]: Islamic calendar (Lunar, 360 day-year), beginning the year, the Prophet migrated (did hijrah) from Mecca to Medina. It was introduced some 17 years after the Prophet’s death (by Caliph Umar) and the dates of all the preceding events were allocated backwards and represent the best judgment of the historians of the era.
x : y: Classical numbering of Qur’anic verses. ‘x’ refers to the Sura (chapter) number, and ‘y’ refers to the ayah (verse) number.
- An underline under the Sura (chapter) number denotes the Medinite origin of the verses based on the generally agreed chronology of the revelation.
ahl al-kitab: ‘People of the Book’, notably, the Jews and Christians, and in a broader sense all religious communities who had received divine scriptures before the Qur’anic revelation.
ayah (pl. ayat): The text of the Qur’an is made up of ayat (pl. form of ayah) – more than 6000 altogether. The Qur’an also connotes this word with a ‘sign’ or ‘message’ of God, depending upon usage.
din: In the generic sense, religion; though the Qur’an also connotes it with judgment, divine law, law of the land, obedience or devotion, faith, and moral responsibility.
hadith: As a generic term hadith (pl. ahadith) is an account or narration that embodies a model or normative behavior or practice (sunnah).
Hadith: The accounts or narration in the form of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad that were put together from oral accounts in circulation more than two hundred years after his death. The accounts are popularly referred to as ‘traditions.’ The earliest and most authentic of compilations is known as Sahih al-Bukhari - after the name of its compiler.
hajj: Muslims’ yearly pilgrimage to the Ka‘ba in Mecca.
Halal: Lawful, whether in food, in earning livelihood, or in other pursuits of life.
Haram: Normally connoted with ‘prohibition’ - such as Qur’anic prohibition against grave crimes, usury, swine’s flesh etc; the Qur’an also connotes this word and its other roots with ‘sacred’ or ‘binding’.
hijrah: Literally, ‘migration’, the term is the popular shortened form of ‘after hijrah’ (See A.H. above).
jihad: An ongoing struggle to face the hardships and challenges of life, and to overcome the social, moral, material, intellectual and spiritual deprivations of the community.
Ka‘bah [Ka‘ba]: The cubicle shrine in Mecca that was originally built by Abraham and is regarded as the most sacred structure (house) in Islam.
kitab: A book, divine writ, or a scripture. When used for the Qur’an or other revealed scripture in the text, it is capitalized, such as, ‘People of the Book’ for ahl al-kitab. [See above]
khalifah: A successor, heir, deputy or a viceroy. Its anglicized form is Caliph
kufr: Willful rejection or denial of any self-evident or irrefutable proposition. The Qur’an refers to its recalcitrant audience by the plural noun forms kafirun, kafirin, which, for want of any appropriate English counterpart have been rendered as disbelievers or deniers as appropriate. The Qur’an also connotes kufr with canceling or effacing something (29:7, 47:2), being thankless or ungrateful (17:27, 76:24).
mu’min: One who has embraced the true faith; any believer in one God.
muslim: Anyone who submits his will and purpose (orients himself or herself) to God. It is capitalized in the text when specific to the followers of Islam (the Muslims).
muttaqi (pl. muttaqin, muttaqun): One who practices Taqwa (See definition below.)
salah (pl. salat): The daily ritual prayer of the Muslims. The word and its other roots (SLH) also connote peace, protection, blessings etc.
Shaytan [Satan]: In the Qur’anic discourse Satan is the personification of man’s evil impulses - intrinsic to his nature or externally induced that drive him to defy the divine/universal moral tenets inspired in him as recipient of some of God’s breath, tempts him to commit evil.
Shari‘ah [Shari‘a]: A divinely ordained way or path covering all facets of life.
Shar‘ia law/Shar‘iat: By definition, it is the Islamic law derived from the Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet by use of reasoning, analogical deduction and consensus. In practical terms, it is a juristic tradition based on the discourses and traditions left by the jurists of different law schools of Islam.
SAW: Acronym for the Arabic benediction for the Prophet (‘May God’s blessings and peace be upon him’)
surah [Sura]: Each chapter of the Qur’an is called a Surah (pl. Surat/Suras). There are 114 Suras in the Qur’an
sunnah: As a generic term, sunnah (pl. sunnat) means a normative or model behavior, or proven example or path, for others to follow.
Sunna: Denotes a sunnah that is specific to the Prophet Muhammad.
Taqwa: Piety, God consciousness, or heedfulness to God’s commandments, and in a broader sense, compliance with one’s universal social, moral, and ethical responsibilities, with faith in God and the Last Day.
‘ulama (pl. form of ‘alim): Religious scholars of Islam.
wudu: Ritual washing of hands, feet, face and symbolic mopping of head before performing a prayer (salah).
zakah: The term zakah, and its different roots and plural form, zakat, are used in the Qur’an with the dual connotation of ‘spiritual purification’, and ‘care and concern for humanity.’ Traditionally, its plural form,zakat is however translated in a restrictive sense as charity.
Zakat: The compulsory charity that the Muslims having income in excess of a threshold level are required to pay.
For Muslims the world over the Qur’an is the infallible Word of God - a divine litany of unparalleled beauty and grandeur. They read, recite and memorize the Qur’an – partly or even wholly, to please God, to experience the transcendent, and to seek peace and tranquility. However, they seldom make any attempt to study the Qur’an to comprehend its message. There is a tradition that “one who discusses about the Book of God, (the Qur'an) makes a mistake, even if he is correct.”1
The non-Muslim scholars of Arabic in the Christian West also acknowledge the extra-ordinary literary merit of the Qur’an,2 but they often find its contents confusing and even alienating. Even secular Arab Muslims reading the Qur’an out of context may find it very challenging. This is due to some unique features of its text as summarily illustrated below.
The Qur’an engages a wide range of subjects and themes, which, barring a few exceptions, appear repeatedly either in their entirety, or in bits and pieces across the text, without any apparent order or organization. Thus, diverse themes may be interwoven in the same paragraph without any logical order.3
The Qur’an is an oratorical discourse with God as the speaker. However, God’s mode of address shifts from first person singular and plural forms (I and We) to third person singular: He, Your Lord, al-Rahman(the Benevolent). It also constantly switches between its addressees: thus, a passage may open with an address to the Prophet, but the subsequent verses may be addressed to his followers, the People of the Book (Christians and Jews), the pagans, the disbelievers who persistently denied the revelation, and humankind in general.4
The language and style of the Qur’an also changes abruptly. Sometimes it is very clear and precise, sometimes it is condensed and elliptic, and sometimes it is highly context–specific. Besides, some of the Qur’anic passages, especially those from an early period of the revelation have a cosmic perspective, and are deeply mysterious, while others evoke God’s transcendence and are profoundly mystical. There are many evocative passages in the Qur’an where “what is left unsaid is as important as what is said,”5 and the reader is left wondering what the Qur’an really means by such and such example or pronouncement.6
Moreover, the Qur’an evolves the various elements of its broader message in stages, and therefore, reading any passage in isolation can be highly misleading.
Thus, the Arabic Qur’an can be very challenging and can even disorient and misguide a casual reader, not aware of its subtleties, nuances and various contexts. However, the Qur’an leaves sufficient clues for the reader to help comprehending its guidance and broader message. Thus, the Qur’an affirms that it contains some clearly stated verses that form ‘the essence of the Book’ (3:7).
“He is the One who has revealed to you (O Muhammad,) the Book which contains (some) clear verses that (form) the essence of this Book, while others are allegorical. As for those with perversity in their hearts, follow that which is allegorical seeking confusion and seeking an interpretation. No one knows its interpretation, except God. Those, who have knowledge, say: ‘We believe in it; it all comes from our Lord;’ yet none is mindful of this, except the prudent”(3:7).
Furthermore, the Qur’an spells out its role and credentials, loud and clear, luring the seekers of knowledge and challenging his intellect to probing it. Thus, it claims to be:
A book of wisdom7 that is made clear and distinct,8 with all kinds of illustrations,9 and explanations.10
An Arabic recital (Qur’an) for those who have knowledge, and use their reason.11
Guidance and mercy for those who believe in God,12 and who do good.13
Guidance for the heedful (muttaqi) ;14 and truth, guidance and message for humanity.15
The divine criteria of right and wrong,16 and the balance of justice for humanity.17
Verifier of a part of the Scripture that came before it.18
The Translated Qur’an
The Arabic Qur’an is generous with idioms, metaphors, allegories and similes and features a complex construction of words, and therefore, its literal translation can hardly be meaningful. This, together with its extraordinary textual features, makes it almost impossible to render without grievous distortion in the meaning of many of its expressions, passages and themes. Traditionally, Muslim scholars have inserted additional words into the text to attain a meaningful rendition, and added explanatory notes in the margins to explain the message of the Qur’an in historical and thematic context. However, dictated by the traditional principle of taqlid (blind conformity with the works of the past scholars), practically all Qur'anic exegetes have referenced the work of an exegete of their choice as their primary source material, and embellished and adapted it to their immediate circumstances and world view. The traditional interpretative works (tafsir) have therefore been influenced by the personal and doctrinal background of their authors, and their choice of mentors, leading inevitably to varying interpretation of the Qur’anic message.
This book attempts to interpret the various facets of the Qur’anic message by drawing explanations primarily from its (the Qur’an’s) own text. Thus, the meanings of the critical words, idioms, figures of speech, and phrases of the Qur’an have been derived from their usage across its text. Likewise, the essence of its guidance and its criteria of right and wrong, permissible and forbidden have been derived primarily from its own illustrations to provide the reader with a broad moral trajectory of the Qur’an.
The work is thus designed to eliminate the influence of the personal, educational, and doctrinal backgrounds of its authors and their choice of source materials. This is consistent with the Qur’an’s claim of representing the best interpretation.22 Accordingly, many Qur’anic scholars have advocated it since the early centuries of Islam. However, it never gained popularity, first because the orthodoxy was fully satisfied with the traditional exegetic discipline, and secondly because this approach is inherently more difficult and challenging than the classical exegesis. The long-outstanding need for a clear understanding of the essential message of Islam, independent of personal exegetic influences, and the scope of using computer database for comprehensive and accurate scrutiny of the Qur’anic text as adopted in this work, provide the impetus and background for the compilation of this volume.
The book covers about a fourth of the Qur’anic verses, partly rendered, and partly referenced/implied. It attempts to review, by topic, the Qur’an’s clearly stated verses that constitute its core message (3:7 above). However, the listing of its repetitive exhortations under any topic can appear dull and flat, and therefore, in all such cases only a few verses are rendered to illustrate the Qur’anic message, while the rest of the verses are indicated in the footnote for the inquisitive to consult in their copies of the Qur’an.
The portion of the Qur’anic text that is not covered in this exposition relates to various Qur’anic illustrations, God's glorification, stories of the past prophets, fate of some of the ancient tribes, and tales and parables. This, however, does not undermine the scope of the work to any significant extent, as the lessons embraced in such verses are largely covered in the clearly spelled out directives, which the Qur'an commands its believers to follow (3:7).
Layout and Organization
The book is divided into 48 chapters, organized as follows:
Chapters 1-2 cover the salient features of the revelation and the text of the Qur’an.
Chapter-3 attempts to evolve a biography of the Prophet by drawing primarily on the Qur’anic allusions (some 250 verses) to contemporaneous events – an exercise that is designed to give a far more accurate representation of the Prophetic mission than the classical biography.
Chapters 4-14 relate to the Qur’anic reflections on the creation of the physical world, humans; its warnings about the Day of Judgment, and other concepts and notions of a universal nature.
Chapters 15-42 focus on the various facets of the Qur’anic guidance and message.
Chapter 43 recapitulates and summarizes all Qur’anic precepts relating to the rights and duties between all human relationships under a modern heading, ‘Principles of human rights’.
Chapters 44-48 review the canonical five pillars of Islam, specifically for the Muslim readers. This has been placed towards the end as the Muslims are fairly familiar with them and need to have a better understanding of the broader message of the Qur’an, as covered earlier in the book, to derive greater benefits from the Islamic rituals.
The ordering of the topics, however, is somewhat arbitrary. As the Qur'anic message must be comprehended as a whole, there is no basis to give any ranking to its various elements.
Some critical issues and developments that have led to distortion of the Qur’anic message or confusion in religion have been covered in the Enclosures (four topics), and the book is concluded with an Afterword that evaluates two current issues: the relevance of Islamic (Shari‘a) law in today’s multi-religious societies, and Sectarianism in Islam, in light of the Qur’anic message, and ends with a general appeal to both the Muslims and non-Muslims.
The Common Era has been used throughout the book, while in many places Islamic calendar is also noted, separated by a slash.
Last but not least, the classical division of the revelation into Meccan period (610-622) and Medinite (622-632) period has been maintained corresponding to the venue of the revelation (Mecca and Medina), and the chronology of Qur’anic chapters (Suras), where mentioned, is based on Noldeke’s grouping,23 which are generally agreed among the scholars.
Lingual Etiquette/ Nuances
A number of things that may sound somewhat academic but could be contentious need clarification:
1. Muslim scholars differ on whether Allah, the Supreme Diety of the Qur’an, can be rendered as ‘God’, and whether sanctifying adjectives should be used while referring to the Qur’an. We have followed Yusuf Ali, Thomas Irving (Talim Ali), Ahmed Ali and Muhammad Asad in using the English word ‘God’ for Allah - across this book, and excluded the sanctifying adjective ‘Holy’ while referring to the Qur'an.
2. The oratorical nature of the Qur’an reflects in the following dialectical nuances that may be noted for easy reading of the rendition of the verses presented in the book.
‘Say' means God is asking the Prophet to announce to his people.
‘You' may mean the Prophet himself or his Arab audience, by implication the reader himself, depending upon the Arabic verb-form (singular or plural form).
‘They', ‘them', refer to the Prophet’s followers or opponents depending upon the text.
3. The Qur'an features a rich vocabulary for different shades or categories of ‘goodness’ and ‘badness’,24 with each word contributing to the lyrical harmony of its text. Any attempt to capture the different shades of meaning of the Qur'anic words for ‘good’ and ‘bad’ could compromise with the literary merit of translation. Therefore, in many places, the commonplace words ‘good/kind’ and ‘evil’ are used to convey all shades of ‘goodness’ and ‘badness’.
4. For want of a common gender second person pronoun, the masculine form (‘he’/‘He’) is adopted as per normal usage, without any gender bias, and likewise the generic word ‘man,’ is used, where appropriate, to denote both the sexes.
Finally, as a prelude to this exposition, a key mystical passage of the Qur’an is listed below to help the readers meditate on the Author (God) of the Arabic Qur’an.
“God is the Light of the heavens and the earth. A likeness of His light is a niche that has a lamp in it, and the Lamp is in a glass, and the glass is (dazzling,) as it were, a radiant star. (The Lamp is) lit from a blessed olive (tree), neither of East nor of West; its oil almost glows, though fire has never touched it. Light upon light! God guides to His Light anyone He Wills, and God gives people examples, for God is Cognizant of everything”(24:35).
Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah Syed
Finalized, June 18th, 2009
Notes, Complimentary Verse references
2. Following are the quotations from some of the most eminent non-Muslim Arabic scholars of the modern era:
“It is by far the finest work of Arabic prose in existence” - Alan Jones, The Koran, London 1994, opening page.
“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.
(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.
“.. the recited Qur’an is a distinctively compelling example of verbal expression.” - Michael Sells, Approaching the Qur’an, 2nd edition, Oregon 2007, p. 2.
3. For example, the passage 45:13-16, opens with a statement that God has made serviceable to humans whatever is in the heavens and the earth, (45:13), and this is followed in sequence by a bidding to the believers to forgive the disbelievers (45:14), a declaration on the individual accountability of humans to God subject to their deeds (45:15) and God’s favor on the Children of Israel.
4. God’s opening address to the Prophet in the passage (5:67-71) is followed sequentially by the Prophet addressing the People of the Book (5:68), God promising reward to all adherents of monotheistic faiths subject to their deeds (5:69), and God speaking about the rebellious attitude of the Children of Israel (5:70).
5. Michael Sells, Approaching the Qur’an, 2nd edition, Oregon 2007, p. 45.
hawiyah (101:7). The 101st Sura (al Qari‘a) - a short lyrical composition, opens with a brief glimpse of the apocalyptic calamity (101:1-5), and then warns its audience that “whoever’s scales weigh light’ (101:8), his mother is hawiyah” (101:9). It then asks: “And what can tell you what she is” (101:10)?, and concludes with the answer: “narun hamiah (raging fire)” (101:11). Totally lost in foreign rendition, the term hawiyah, presented in the feminine mode (101:10), preceded by a powerful imagery of a cosmic cataclysm, evokes a sense of profound loss or agony and can mean ‘a fall into an abyss’ or ‘a woman bereft of her child.’ The sense of loss is stressed phonologically by the sound figure of the word and leaves the Arab audience wondering what the Qur’an really means by this term. The Qur’anic answer does not fully satisfy his curiosity as the expression narun hamiah is without the definite article al (the): narun hamiyah is not ‘the raging fire’, rather simply ‘raging fire’- Michael Sells,Approaching the Qur’an, Oregon, U.S.A, 1999, p.113.
sijjil (105:4). In the 105th Sura (al-Fil), the Qur’an alludes to the destruction of an army with elephants approaching Mecca by birds showering them with sijjil. This is a mysterious term that has been variously interpreted as ‘a writing’, ‘rock’, ‘baked bricks’, ‘rock-hard clay’, and, metaphorically, as ‘a writing on the wall’, something that had been decreed (by God). - Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Chap. 105, Note 2.
7. 10:1, 31:2, 43:4, 44:4.
8. 12:1, 15:1, 16:64, 26:2, 27:1, 36:69, 43:2, 44:2.
9. 17:89, 18:54, 30:58, 39:27.
10. 7:52, 11:1, 41:3.
11. 12:2, 41:3, 43:3.
12. 7:52, 16:64, 27:77.
14. 2:2, 3:138, 24:34.
15. 2:185, 10:108, 14:52.
16. 2:185, 25:1.
17. 42:17, 57:25.
19. 56:79. Literally, the verse states: “None but the pure (of heart) can touch it (the Qur’an)”, but given that the Qur’an was an oral revelation, the verse suggests that only those pure (of heart) can draw benefit from it.
20. 38:29, 47:24.
21. 39:18, 39:55.
23. Noldeke’s classification is as follows, though some scholars place the opening Sura (1) in the Medinite period.
o Early Meccan: 1, 51-53, 55-56, 68-70, 73-75, 77-97, 99-109, 111-114. [48 Suras]
o Middle Meccan: 15, 17-21, 23, 25-27, 36-38, 43-44, 50, 54, 67, 71-72, 76. [21 Suras]
o Late Meccan: 6-7, 10-14, 16, 28-32, 34-35, 39-42, 45-46. [21 Suras]
o Medinite Suras, in (extrapolated) chronological order: 2, 98, 64, 62, 8, 47, 3, 61, 57, 4, 65, 59, 33, 63, 24, 58, 22, 48, 66, 60, 110, 49, 9, 5. [24 Suras]
Alan Jones, The Koran, U.K. 1994, [Reprint of the original translation of the Qur’an by J.M.Rodwell, 1861]; p. xx.
24. Typically, the Qur’an uses the words sualehah, khayrah, hasanah, taiyibah, birr for different categories of goodness, and the words, khabisah, sharr, sayyi’ah, munkar, fahishah for different categories of badness.
1. The Quranic Revelation and Compilation
Barren sandy desert, extremely hot climate, and scarcity of water resources made the heartland of the Arabian Peninsula an inhospitable abode for man since ancient times. Its original people were pagans, except for some Unitarians (ahnaf) who contemplated on the Oneness of God. In the post Judeo-Christian era, pockets of wet fertile land attracted Jewish and Christian settlers from the adjoining regions, and became isolated centres of trade and commerce. However, the vast stretches of the desert heartland that only sustained a nomadic life, remained in a primitive state until the advent of Islam. The nomadic tribes had preserved their ancestral paganism, with each tribe having its own idol; and the Ka‘ba, a cubical shrine at the heart of an ancient sanctuary (Haram) in Mecca, was the centre of idol worship. The nomadic Arabs were largely unlettered, had no notion of central state or kingdom, and their social and moral norms were based on traditions (Sunnah) and dictated by the struggle for survival.
The Qur’an does not offer any details on the social and moral conditions of the time. However, as part of its dialogue with the pagan Arabs, it touches on the major vices of the era, as summarized below.
The Arabs abhorred the birth of a female child and would rather bury it alive than bear the shame and ignominy of raising it.1 They also slaughtered their own children,2 as sacrifice to idols, or on account of poverty.3 They forbade certain crops and animals to common people, reserving them only for the priests.4 They reserved some livestock for men, but allowed the women to share only that which was born dead,5and forbade four kinds of cattle of either sex for food.6
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 travellers in distress were left uncared,9 slavery was institutionalized,10 and the sick and the mendicant were ostracized.11
Offences against members of rival tribes were avenged by ‘like for like’ injury resulting in an unending cycle of avenge and blood vendetta often lasting for generations,12 while economic injustice and immoral commercial practices were rampant.13
1.2. The Qur'anic revelation
As a Hanafi (believer in the Oneness of God), Muhammad had taken to periodic meditation in a mountain cave above Mecca. During one of these meditations, he heard a voice saying:
“Read! (O Muhammad,) in the name of your Lord who creates (96:1), (who) created man out of a clot (2). Read! Your Lord is Most Noble (3). He taught humans the use of the intellect (4). He taught man what he did not know” (96:5).
This was the beginning of the Qur’anic revelation (610). The next revelation, comprising the first seven verses of the 74th Sura (al- Muddaththir), came after a pause (fatarah) of two to three years, commanding the Prophet to proclaim his Prophetic mission, and setting out some of the core concepts of Qur’anic message:
“O you enwrapped (Muddaththir) (in your thoughts) (74:1)! Arise and warn (your people) (2). Magnify your Lord (3). Purify your inner self (thiyab) (4).14 Shun all defilements (5). Do not bestow favour, seeking gains (6). And turn to God in patience” (74:7).
The revelations came in phases,15 and at an early stage of the revelation, it assured the Prophet that he would have no difficulty in remembering and reciting the Qur’an.16 This enabled verbatim recording of the revealed passages. The revelation continued for almost twenty-three years (610-632) until it declared its own completion, and the ‘perfection of its laws’ (5:3):
“…This day, those who reject (this Qur'an) despair of (ever harming) your religion. Therefore, do not fear them; fear Me. This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favour on you, and have chosen Islam for your religion…” (5:3).
The revelation came like ad hoc passages, without any continuity of theme or rhythm. Moreover, no attempt was made by the scribes to record the revealed passages in a chronological order: the Prophet directed their exact location in the Qur'an. This led the Prophet’s Meccan enemies to question his claim to be God's messenger. The revelation responded by challenging its audience to produce a chapter like it (2:23/24):17
“If you (O people,) are in doubt concerning what We have revealed to Our Servant, then produce a chapter like it; and call on your witnesses besides God – if indeed you are truthful (2:23). But if you do not do (it) - and you can never do (it), then heed hellfire, whose fuel is human beings and stones - prepared for the disbelievers” (2:24).
The Qur’an also claims that no one can even forge it (10:38),18 and asserts that it is of such a literary grandeur that only God Almighty could be its Author (10:37):
“This Qur'an could not possibly have been devised by (anyone) other than God – rather, (it) is a confirmation of what was (revealed) before it; and a fuller explanation of the Book in which there is nothing doubtful, from the Lord of the worlds (10:37). Do they say, he [Muhammad] forged it?’ Say (to them): ‘Then bring a chapter like this, and call upon anyone besides God you can - if indeed you are truthful’”(10:38).
At the height of literary eloquence, the Arabs had great poets and poetry was big part of their lives, but they recognized in the Qur’an, the most eloquent language they had ever heard. The Qur’an virtually cast a spell on the listeners, so much so that the Quraysh asked people to chat and make noise during Qur’anic recitation, understandably, to foil its magical effect.19
The Qur’an also challenged the priests and the learned among its audience to probe into it and find any contradiction in it (4:82) and asserted that its self-consistency is yet another illustration of its divine character (18:1):20
“Don’t they ponder over the Qur’an? Had it been from (someone) other than God, they would have surely found much contradiction in it” (4:82).
“Praise be to God who has revealed to His devotee the Book, and did not put any distortion in it” (18:1).
As the revelation progressed, the seemingly unrelated passages fell in place and created an immensely intricate and inexplicably harmonious pattern of the Qur’anic text. This fully convinced the Arabs, who had opposed Muhammad for almost two decades, of the divinity of the Qur’an, and they came to the Prophet in large numbers from all over Arabia to embrace the new faith.
1.4. Memorization / recording during the Prophet's lifetime
Early Qur’anic revelations were generally short, and were memorized by Muhammad’s followers, as pieces of a divine litany. In later years, revealed passages became longer. They were not only memorized, but also recorded. The scribes wrote them down on dry palm leaves, camel hides, paper scroll etc. When any writing material was not at hand, they inscribed them on white stone, animal bones, hardened clay, wooden tablets etc. These early records and inscriptions were then written down on sheets (Suhuf), which were held in reverence (80:11-16).
“Nay! The Qur’an is a message (80:11) for anyone who wants to remember (12), (retained) in honoured pages (Suhuf) (13), elevated and immaculate (14), (written) by the hands of scribes (15) – noble and virtuous” (80:16).
As the pagans put pressure on the Prophet to alter the wordings of the revelation such as by accommodating their deities, the Qur’an declares (6:115, 85:21/22):21
“The Words of your Lord will be fulfilled truthfully and justly: none can change His Words, for He is All-Knowing and Aware” (6:115)
“Surely We have sent down this Reminder, and surely. We will protect (preserve) it” (15:9).
“Nay! This is a Glorious Qur'an (85:21). (Inscribed) in a Tablet (well) guarded (lauh al-Mahfooz) 22 (against corruption)” (85:22).
These Qur’anic pronouncements serve as irrefutable proof of the integrity of its text. Had there been any alteration in the Qur’an, the Prophet’s enemies as well as the general Arab public would not have embraced Islam during his lifetime; and even if, for the sake of argument, they did so under the prevalent historical setting, they would have definitely rejected the Qur’an immediately after the Prophet’s death. However, this did not happen. The Prophet’s immediate successors were as intense in their faith in the Qur’an as their predecessors during the Prophet’s lifetime. Thus there can be no iota of doubt that the Qur’an was handed down to the Prophet’s successors and through them to the posterity in its original form.
1.5. Final compilation and authentication
While some of the Prophet’s companions23 compiled their own manuscripts (masahif), Zayd bin Thabit, the foremost among the Prophet’s scribes collated all the original sheets (suhuf) within two to three years of the Prophet's death (632). These were retained originally by the first Caliph, Abu Bakr (632-634), then by the second Caliph, ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab (634-644), then by Hafsah bint ‘Umar, one of the Prophet’s widows, and finally authenticated by the special committee set up by the third Caliph, ‘Uthman Ibn ‘Affan (644-656).
The personal manuscripts of the Prophet’s companions showed nominal differences in spelling, arrangement and numbering of chapters (Suras) and synonyms. Uthman's commission cross checked Hafsah's original sheets (suhuf) with each of these manuscripts as well as with the memorized litany, and arrived at a ‘singular' text, which had the concurrence of all the companions of the Prophet, and was declared authentic without doubt (mutawattir). Some of Uthman’s manuscripts are preserved. He made five copies and sent one copy each to Egypt, Syria and other dominions of Islam. Three of the copies have survived, and modern secular research has also established that except for dots and orthographic marks that were introduced later, 24 they are identical to what we have today.25
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 was not so the very premise of the Qur'an as a book of Truth26 and Wisdom,27 as it repeatedly claims, 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.
This intrinsic accuracy of the Qur’anic records of contemporaneous events is of great significance. They 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.
It is also worth noting that since the Qur’an reflects the social circumstances of the time of revelation, it could not have been written in historical stages and increments as some orientalists argued, because then social and historical circumstances of a later era would have been inevitably reflected in the text.
2. 6:137, 6:140, 60:12.
3. 6:151, 17:31.
6. 5:103, 6:143/144.
7. Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, English translation by Ismail Ragi, 8th edition, Karachi 1989, p. 319.
9. 2:215, 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.
14. The word thiyab in 74:4 literally connotes clothes that one wears, and accordingly most commentators have linked the verse 74:1 with the verses 74:4/5 to imply that the Prophet, who used to be enwrapped (74:1) in his cloak, is commanded to keep his cloak clean of all filth and pollution (74:4/5). However, Muhammad Asad observes quoting early scholars, that in classic Arabic the word thiyab is used metaphorically to denote the inner self, and that according to most of the (earlier) commentators, “the meaning of (the verse 74:5) is to ‘purify thy heart of all that is blameworthy.’” Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Chap.74, Note 2.
15. 17:106, 25:32.
17. 17:88, 52:34.
18. 11:13, 52:33.
20. 39:23, 39:28.
21. 6:34, 18:27, 41:42.
22. This is the only verse with the phrase lauh al-mahfuz, rendered as ‘Tablet (well) guarded’. Many scholars take the literal meaning of the word and advocate that the Qur’an has been preserved in the heaven since eternity in an imperishable Tablet. However, others hold that this expression implies God’s promise to protect the Qur’anic text from any corruption. In the early centuries of Islam, this generated much debate and confusion as it bore on the highly contentious and sensitive issue of whether the Qur’an is created or uncreated and that of divine predestination. These are, however, purely theological questions and God best knows their answers.
23. Ibn Mas‘ud, Ubayy Ibn Ka‘b and Zayd Ibn Thabit, ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib - to name the noted ones.
24. Caliph Malik al-Marwan (d. 68/686) introduced the dots and orthographic marks into the plain text of the Qur’an to enable the non-Arabs to differentiate between the different Arabic words as without these marks, many words look identical.
25. Ahmad von Denffer, ‘Ulum al-Qur’an, U.K. 1983 / Malaysia 1991, p. 163.
26. 2:176, 39:2, 39:41, 42:17.
27. 10:1, 31:2, 43:4, 44:4. [Same as Note 7, Preface]
2. The Text of the Qur’an
An unqualified and wholesome belief in the One Almighty God (Tawhid), without the slightest association of anything with Him (shirk) distinguishes the Qur’an as the epitome of the purest form of monotheism. The Qur’an repeatedly asserts the transcendence of God and uses a rosary of attributes to convey the multifarious manifestations of His Words (kalimat). It recounts almost a hundred attributes of God such as, the Sustainer (Lord), the Sovereign, the Holy, the (source of) Peace, the Secure, the Preserver (of safety), the Mighty, the Inexorable, the Supreme, the Eternal Source (of everything), the Complete, the Fearless, the Exalted, the Wise, the Permanent, the Merciful, the Independent, the Omnipotent, the Originator of Heaven and Earth etc. The Qur’an however makes it clear that all Words are due to Him:
“Say (O Muhammad!): ‘If the ocean were an inkwell for the Words* of my Lord, sooner would the ocean be exhausted than my Lord’s Words (kalimat), even if We brought the same to replenish (it)’” (18:109). *[Scholars have connoted the word kalimat in this verse with ‘wisdom’ or ‘knowledge.’ It can also mean manifestations.]
“If all the trees on earth were (made into) pens and the oceans (were ink), with seven oceans for replenishment*, the Words (Kalimat) of God will not be exhausted. Indeed God is Almighty, Wise” (31:27). *[Lit., ‘after that’]
The Qur’an calls upon humankind to submit [orient themselves] to God, and to seek His forgiveness. It advocates belief in the ‘unseen:’ what is impenetrable to human perception (the angels, jinn), and affirms the certainty of the Day of Judgment.
The Qur’an states that God sent messengers to different communities from time to time (10:47),1 and declares that Muhammad is the seal of the prophets.2
“And there has been a messenger for every community, and when their messenger comes, judgment is passed among them justly, and they are not wronged” (10:47).
It calls upon Muslims to believe in all the prophets and previously revealed scriptures, and to make no distinction between any of the Prophets (4:152),3 and affirms that all the messengers are not mentioned in the Qur’an (40:78).4
“As for those who believe in God and His messengers, and do not make a distinction between any of them – it is they who will be given their rewards, for God is Most Forgiving and Merciful” (4:152).
“Certainly We have sent messengers before you (O Muhammad!): Some of them We have mentioned to you, while there are others that We have not mentioned to you…” (40:78).
The Qur'an enjoins the same true religion as the Judeo-Christian prophets had preached (2:136),5 but it unequivocally rejects the notion of divine incarnation and trinity (Nicene Creed) which describes Jesus as Son of God, and one of three among a multiple deity (4:171).6
“Say, ‘We believe in God, and in what was revealed to us, and in what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes; and in what was given to Moses and Jesus, and all the prophets from their Lord. We do not make a distinction between any of them. To God alone do we submit” (2:136).
“O People of the Book, do not commit excess in your religion, and do not say anything about God but the truth. The Messiah Jesus, the Son of Mary, was a messenger of God, and His Word that He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit from Him. Therefore, believe in God and His messengers, and do not say ‘Trinity’ - it is best for you to refrain (from this). God is one sole deity, too glorified to have a son. To Him belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth, God is enough of a Patron” (4:171).
The Qur’an mentions twenty-four of the Biblical prophets by name, such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, to name the noted ones. However, the Qur’an does not tell the story of its prophets in a linear fashion. With the exception of the story of Joseph (Sura 12), the Qur’anic allusions appear in bits and pieces scattered across its text. Thus for example, Jesus is spoken of some 35 times either by his name Isa, or by some other title (Messiah, the Son of Mary),7 and some aspects of the story of Moses occur in 44 different passages.8
At the time of the Prophet, varying versions of Biblical accounts were held by diverse Christian sects,9 but the Qur’anic references to the missions of Biblical prophets, though fragmentary, are fully consistent. Accordingly many Christian priests and Rabbis saw the truth in the Qur’anic revelation (2:146),10 and listened to it with overwhelming awe, admiration, and devotion (17:107).
“Those to whom We have given the Book, know this (to be true) as they know their own sons…” (2:146)
“Say: ‘Whether you believe in it - or you do not believe, indeed, those who are given knowledge before this (Qur’an), fall down prostrating on their faces when it is recited to them’” (17:107).
The Qur'an sets out the highest principles of belief and a framework of moral values and social guidelines. However, its guidance is timeless, designed for universal communities, and is therefore broad based, and not spelled out in any details. For example, it lays great emphasis on good deeds and Zakah (traditionally rendered as charity) - but does not define either. Its treatment of social and civil norms, finance etc. is in general terms. It does not give any detailed instructions in civil law or administration of justice, though it touches on the punishment for some of the major prevalent offences and crimes, while emphasizing on justice and equity in general terms. However, the Qur’an is specific when it radically changed what existed at the time. Accordingly, it clearly spells out the various facets of family and inheritance laws, thereby ensuring the rights and privileges of women in different capacities: as an independent person, a wife, a mother, a widow, or as an inheritor of property from the next of kin.
The Qur’an remains silent about the physical setting of life, as the latter changes with time, place, and state of civilization. Thus, it refers to man’s eternal need for eating but does not say how to prepare the food. It refers to man’s eternal need for lodging, but does not say a word about the type or nature of his abode. It refers to man’s need for traveling to distant lands, but does not prescribe any mode of communication. It refers to man’s eternal need for harnessing the forces of nature for his use, but does not elaborate on the methodology or the process to accomplish this.
To put it in a word, the Qur’an is practically silent about the myriad of objects, articles, gadgets, tools, instruments, and equipment that man has been developing with the progress of civilization. Contrary to the once popular notion, the Qur’an does not even condemn music, though of course good Muslims should be cautious as far as certain types of music are concerned (because they neatly go together with drugs, alcohol and prostitution).
Historically, the orthodox have been suspicious of all new things. Their objection, in the historical perspective, has ranged from the introduction of the handkerchief in the post Prophetic era, to the use of printing machine in late medieval era and photography, microphone and television in more recent times. But the Qur’an does not provide any basis to prevent humans from using the God given faculty of their minds, and to change the physical setting of their life through enterprise, innovation, discovery and invention.
The Qur'an addresses its believers using a common gender pronoun, aa’manu, but the Qur’an also uses this word to denote the male believer. Therefore, to leave no ambiguity that its commandments are directed to both men and women, the Qur’an states:
“Indeed, for Muslim men and Muslim women, for believing men (mu’minin) and believing women (mu’minat), for devout men and devout women, for truthful men and truthful women, for patient men and patient women, for humble men and humble women, for charitable men and charitable women, for fasting men and fasting women,11 for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who remember God a lot - God has prepared for them forgiveness and a great reward” (33:35).
“Anyone, whether a man or a woman, who does good deeds, and is a believer – it is they (who shall) enter the garden and will not be wronged at all” (4:124).
Some of the Qur’anic verses regard the manifestations of nature as well as the day-to-day happenings of life as totally dependent on God’s Will or Command. Any simplistic comprehension of such verses, typified below could lead to confusion and misinterpretation.
“…He sends down mountain-masses (of clouds) from the sky with hail in them, and He strikes with it anyone He wills and turns it away from anyone He wills…” (24:43).
“...God leaves straying anyone He wills and guides anyone He wills...” (14:4, 74:31).
“…God multiplies things for anyone He wills…” (2:261).
These stipulations seemingly suggest that man need not make any effort to do anything on his own, as everything depends on God’s Will. But such an interpretation is totally out of line with the following Qur’anic assertions appearing in two of its verses:
“… God does not change the favor which He has bestowed on a people, unless they change themselves*…” (8:53).
“… God does not change the condition of a people, unless they change themselves*…” (13:11).
*[Lit., ‘change that which is in themselves.’]
These Qur’anic assertions point to both a divine law of cause and effect and to the fundamental premise of man’s free will to choosing the right path out of the “two highways shown to him” (90:10/Ch.17.1).
The truth remains, God is above any comparison with any of His creations. Therefore, as Ali al-Tantawi explains, human attributes, such as ‘will’, ‘wish’, etc. when employed to express God’s Might and Power, cannot be interpreted to mean the same as when used in the context of human beings.12
One of the verses of the Qur’an (56:79) declares: “None but the pure (mutatahhirin) can touch it (the Qur’an).” In the context of the revelation, this probably meant approaching the Qur’an with a pure heart (Note 19/Preface), the Muslims generally regard this as an instruction to attaining purity (Tahara) by doing the ritual ablution (Wudu) before touching any printed copy of the Qur’an, or a part of its text. The Qur’an however uses the word Tahara to denote the various dimensions of purity, such as purity or clarity of mind, spiritual purity, purity in sexual behaviour, purity of a drink, etc.13 Therefore, while applying the injunction to non-believers, the Qur’anic word Tahara may be understood in its broader sense. Furthermore, the Qur’anic guidance is for all humanity,14 and it is ‘a reminder for all the worlds.’15 Therefore anyone of any faith, who may not feel obliged to comply with the Qur’anic injunction on ablution, may still touch and read it, and benefit from its guidance. It would therefore follow that the non-Muslims may touch, or read the written text of the Qur’an without undermining its sanctity.
One of the earliest verses of the Qur’an (74:30) refers to the overlooking of hellfire by nineteen angels. The passage is allegorical, but the subsequent verse (74:31) has some clear stipulations that are worth pondering:
“Over it are nineteen (angels) (74:30), and We have made none but the angels the wardens of hellfire; and We have not set their number (at 19), except as a trial for those who deny (this revelation) - so as to convince those who were given the Book, and to strengthen the faith of those who believe; so that those who were given the Book and who have faith (in One God) may not be in doubt, and that those with sickness in their hearts, and the disbelievers may say: ‘What does God mean by this example?’ God leaves straying anyone He wills and guides anyone He wills...” (74:31).
If we ponder over the number 19, as the verse (74:31) apparently invites us to, we find some easily verifiable clues that point to a mysterious bearing of this odd prime number in the formatting and composition of the Qur’anic text. Thus for example:
*[muqattat, (pl. form of maqta) are letters of unknown meaning which appear at the beginning of some of the Qur’anic chapters, as Qur’anic Initials.]
Given the innate incapability of human mind to comprehend a sentence or a passage with a predetermined arithmetical order to have a mathematical consistency of a completed work, it is just not possible to have the cited 15 easily verifiable examples as a mere coincidence.16
3. 2:177, 2:285, 57:19.
5. 3:3, 3:84, 42:13.
7. Geoffery Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an, Oxford 1996 reprint, p. 18.
8. Michael Sells, Approaching the Qur’an, 2nd edition, Oregon 2007, p. 15.
9. Geoffery Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur’an, Oxford 1996 reprint, Chap. 3.
10. 6:20, 28:52, 28:53, 26:197.
11. The underlined expression represents the traditional rendering of the words sa’imin and sa’imat, based on the Qur’anic usage of the word siam for fasting in the month of Ramadan. However, the Qur’an also connotes this word with abstinence (19:26), and if this meaning is applied, then the underlined expression will read: “for men and women who abstain (from greed and vices).” - Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Chap. 33, Note 38.
12. Ali al-Tantawi, General Introduction to Islam, English translation, Makkah 1994, p. 88.
13. List of different derivatives of the word Tahara used in the Qur’an:
- mutahhir, tahhar: God purified Jesus (3:55) and Mary (3:42).
- tahhir, tahhar: purifying one’s thoughts (74:4) sanctifying the House (for worship) (2:125, 22:26).
- athar: a pure mental state that is conducive to one’s treating his divorced wife with honor and generosity (2:232), to give out in charity (58:12), and to overcome sexual desire (33:53); purer sexual relationship between man and woman as against homosexuality (11:78).
- mutahhra: the pure and sacred contents of the revelation (80:14, 98:2); pure companions (2:25).
- yatatahhru: purity in sexual behavior (7:82, 27:56); spiritual purity of people attending the mosque (9:108).
- tahura: pure rain water (25:48); a most pure drink (76:21).
- yutahhir: God purifies the faithful (5:6); He does not purify the pagans (5:41); the charity offered to the Prophet purified the faithful (9:103); God purified the Prophet’s wives (33:33).
- tatahhr: women’s physically pure state outside their monthly courses (2:222).
14. 2:185, 10:108, 14:52 [Same as footnote 15, Preface]
15. 38:87, 68:52.
16. The statistical chance of such a repeated occurrence of 19 as a factor in all the above noted 15 instances is 1 in 1915 (15,000,000,000,000,000). In other words, if one was to go through more than fifteen million billion books, statistically he will find only one meeting the above arithmetical logic. It is indeed quite mysterious.
3. Muhammad and the Prophetic Mission
The Qur’an is almost silent about Muhammad’s personal life: it does not name, nor bear any information about his parents, wives, offspring, friends or acquaintances, though it leaves the following record about his early life:
“Did He not find you (O Muhammad) an orphan and give shelter (93:6)? And He found you wandering, and gave guidance (7). And He found you needy, and gave sufficiency” (93:8).
On the other hand, the Qur’an is replete with comments on the immediate circumstances of the Prophet - but its commentaries are of very general nature - often oblique and fleeting, and barring exceptions, there is no mention of any names of characters, places, events, numerical figures or sequence of events that go with an historical record. Accordingly, it is not possible to construct the Prophet’s biography in the historical lines from the Qur’anic allusions alone. Partly for this reason and partly for the reverential remoteness of the Qur’an, its references have not been probed in a focused manner, and are quoted only sparingly in classical biographic reports.
The details as we find today in the Prophet’s biographic literature are largely based on the works of Ibn Hisham (d. 218/834), al-Waqidi (d. 206/822) and Ibn Sa‘d (d. 230/845). However, these works were characterized by the historical constructions of the era, and “are far from being certain historical fact.”1 Thus, the classical works on the Prophet’s biography contain materials that can be misleading, incorrect and even legendary, notably, reference to Satanic verses, miraculous powers of the Prophet, exaggerated accounts of the Prophet’s actions against some of his most treacherous enemies – to cite some examples (Encl.1).
This work attempts to piece together a crystallized account of the Prophetic mission (610-632) by drawing primarily on the Qur’anic allusions (rendered or paraphrased in italics). As discussed earlier (Ch. 1.6) and conceded by Maxime Rodinson, a distinguished modern biographer of the Prophet, the Qur’an “does provide a firm basis of undoubted authenticity,”1 and hence this exercise is expected to produce a far more accurate assessment of the major events of the Prophetic mission than the classical biography. The work, however, draws on the classical sources to provide the historical context that is essential to fill personal information and names of important figures and places, not furnished by the Qur’an. It has also received valuable inputs from Abou El Fadl, one the most distinguished scholars of Islam of our era.
The classical sources tell us that Muhammad was born in Mecca (570), a posthumous child, who lost his mother at age 6, his next guardian - his grandfather at 9. He was then reared and protected by his uncle, Abu Talib, the chief of the Hashim clan, who were the custodians of the Ka‘ba and belonged to the powerful Quraysh tribe.2 We are also told that at about age 25, Muhammad married Khadija, a widow, about 40 years old, who had already been married twice and had several children. She bore him six children: four daughters and two sons, of whom only the daughters survived. Muhammad led a stable and harmonious family life, and did not arouse any particular interest of the community until he experienced the first revelation (632).
Muhammad’s wife, Khadija, and his cousin ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib, then a minor who lived in Muhammad’s household were the first to believe in him. Muhammad’s friend Abu Bakr and ‘Uthman Ibn ‘Affan, a brilliant young man of the Umayyad tribe, also readily acknowledged the truth of the revelation as the word reached them. Thus in its nascent stage, Islam recruited three of its Caliphs (Abu Bakr, Uthman and Ali) some two to three decades before the responsibility of governing the young Islamic nation was thrust on them (610 onwards). The egalitarian message of the revelation had particular appeal for the poor and the slaves and many of them converted to the new faith. However, the bulk of the community took Muhammad for a joke: they laughed at his followers, winking at each other as they passed by and made fun of them as they reached home.3
As the revelation progressed, it increasingly challenged idol worship and prevalent social and moral norms. This deeply hurt the sentiments of community leaders, who grew increasingly angry with Muhammad and bitterly resentful of the converts. They called Muhammad an impostor, a madman,4 and an insane poet,5 and ridiculed the Qur’anic revelation.6 They also found the revelation strange and unbelievable,7 andcondemned it as the legends of the ancients.8
While the pace of conversion was slow, its social impact was alarming. By joining Muhammad’s creed, the converts broke their clan loyalty - their tacit covenant of love and fellowship with all clan members. Therefore, in the eye of the community, they became traitors and the Quraysh leaders put enormous pressure on their families to revoke marriages or engagements with them. Thus, the revelation was destroying the love and affection in the families and the peace and harmony in the community. The Quraysh leaders also feared that Muhammad’s claims could bring disgrace to them during the annual fair, when the delegates of pagan tribes from all over Arabia came to Mecca for pilgrimage and trading and brought rich presents for them. Therefore, they had to isolate Muhammad and keep others from joining his camp. They now questioned why Muhammad could not show any miracles,9 and why the Qur'an was not revealed to a man of importance from the two cities10 - for Muhammad was neither wealthy nor powerful. They also declared that other people coached him or dictated to him morning and evening.11 Furthermore, they argued that Muhammad had the power to separate a person from all his loved ones – his father, his mother, his spouse, his brothers and sisters and all the rest in the clan, and therefore he must be a deceitful liar and a great sorcerer. Accordingly they charged him with forging lies and witchcraft,12 forging lies against God, forgery and making up tales,13 witchcraft,14 obvious witchcraft that was bewildering,15 and of being bewitched or possessed by a Jinn.16
As the revelation consistently challenged the prevalent social and economic norms, it became amply clear that its egalitarian message was tailored to do away with tribalism and remove the privileged class altogether. All this was extremely disturbing, and the community leaders watched the situation with growing alarm. The prevalent clan ties and fear of revenge prevented them from taking to violence, but they hoped for a misfortune to befall him any time,17 while they captured and persecuted those converts who were weak and helpless.18
Around the fifth year of his mission (615), the Prophet asked his followers to take refuge in Abyssinia - a neighbouring country with a flourishing Christian Arab civilization. When the Quraysh leaders approached the king of Abyssinia to return the refugees, the Muslim delegate recited the Qur’anic passage on the miraculous birth of Jesus, Son of Mary.19 The King was deeply touched and allowed them to stay on. This only made the Quraysh more hostile.
It was around this time that ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, the most gifted and talented among the Quraysh youth and a fierce opponent of the Prophet publicly announced his conversion (616). The Quraysh knew something had to be done. They imposed a social and economic boycott (616-617) on the Hashim clan to isolate Muhammad and his followers from the rest of the community and force them into starvation. But it ran against the tradition of Arab hospitality and also affected the followers of the diverse clans and tribes who had joined the Prophet’s faith, and as such, was eventually lifted.
(The Quraysh) then tried to induce the Prophet to forging what they wanted, attributed to God.20 This aggrieved the Prophet but the revelation reminded him that it was not he but the message of God that they were repudiating.21 The revelation reminded him that messengers had been rejected before him, but they endured until God’s help came to them, and declared that there can be no alteration in the Words of God.22
The ninth year of the revelation (619) is referred to as ‘the year of sadness.’ Muhammad’s wife Khadija, as well as his uncle and guardian, Abu Talib died within a few days of one another. His new guardian, Abu Lahab, was sceptical of his mission, and treated Muhammad as the black sheep of the family, while his wife was openly hostile to him, as the Qur’an attests, though obliquely.23 Muhammad was thus left at the mercy of his opponents, with virtually no one to protect him. His Prophetic mission had almost stalled with barely over a hundred converts, while the whole of Meccan society had turned against him and his followers.
Unwavering in his faith in God, Muhammad travelled to Taif, a nearby town to seek new audience. The people of Taif however rejected his claims and rebuked him and he was forced to travel back to Mecca.
It was around this time that the Prophet had a vision that he was transported from the Sacred Mosque (Ka‘bah) to the Furthest Mosque (in Jerusalem),24 from where he ascended the heaven, passed through each of the seven heavens and finally encountered the Presence of God. In Islamic traditions, the experience is described in graphic details – though in many versions, and is commemorated as al-mi‘raj.25
The revelation attested that God had ordained this vision as a test to the people26 so as to choose the most pious and the strongest believers among them. Accordingly, a number of his followers whose faiths were weak became suspicious of Muhammad and indeed left the Islamic faith, but the majority of the Muslims remained steadfast and believed in the Prophet while his close companion Abu Bakr most emphatically endorsed the truth of his vision. The Quraysh and the Prophet’s enemies, however, grew even more sceptic of him: they thought, having failed to perform any miracles, he was feigning a vision.
Muhammad now turned his attention to the visitors from Medina who came during the annual fair, when nomadic tribes from all over the peninsula congregated to Mecca for pilgrimage (hajj, which was later adopted in Islam). First he met with a small group, who appeared quite sympathetic. In the subsequent years he met bigger delegates, and eventually concluded a treaty with them - known as the Treaty of ‘Aqaba. According to the terms of this treaty, the Medinite Muslims were to provide shelter, sustenance and protection within Medina, and were described as Ansars, traditionally rendered as ‘Supporters’, and the Meccan Muslims in their midst were to enjoy the status of Muhajirin (i.e. Emigrants, who had permanently left their homeland for a new abode).
The Prophet’s Meccan enemies were so infuriated at this new development that they conspired to confine him (to his home) or kill him or exile him.27 Meanwhile small batches of Meccan converts slipped away, and made migration (Hijra) to Medina. Finally, when practically all the converts had departed, the Prophet left Mecca secretly (July, 622), in the face of grave danger. His enemies pursued him. He took shelter in an obscure cave along with his companion (Abu Bakr, not named in the Qur’an) when God sent divine peace (Sakinah) upon him and strengthened him with forces invisible.28 (The revelation also) assured him that God would surely bring him back to the destination.29
An enthusiastic Muslim community that had already flourished in Medina received the Prophet as its long awaited leader. His presence created an immense excitement and heightened religious zeal in the community and more and more people showed interest in the new faith and entered Islam. The Prophet now made a comprehensive peace and common defence treaty with the diverse tribes of Medina – Jewish as well as pagans. As history unfolded, the treaty virtually established the Prophet as the civil and political leader and chief judge of the mixed community of Medina – a political victory of immeasurable proportions that has confused many eminent scholars.30
At this stage, the Jews were supportive of the Prophet as the revelation acknowledged them as believers (mu’minun), referred to them as the People of the Book (ahl al-kitab), and the Muslims faced Jerusalem, their spiritual centre, during prayers. Some of the Medinite converts, however, wavered in faith.31 They pretended to believe but in their hearts mocked at the new faith.32 (Referred to as) the hypocrites (munafiqun) (at a later stage of the revelation),33 they opposed the Prophet34 and unknowingly created disorder in the society.35
The Prophet’s followers so far had been a purely religious or spiritual community, but in their present situation fighting had become unavoidable if they had to survive in their new habitat. The tribal mores permitted an aggrieved tribe to make a sporting raid (ghazu) on its adversary and seize goods to recover the losses inflicted by them. So, on one occasion a small band (some eight in number) of Emigrant Muslims conducted a ghazu on a caravan of a Meccan tribe and the encounter overlapped the traditional sacred months (the first, seventh, eleventh and twelfth months of lunar calendar).36 This was a serious matter, but soon the revelation declares that more serious in God’s sight was to block the way to the path of God, denying God, preventing access to the Sacred mosque and driving away its people.37 (Within a year of their migration), the revelation grants the Emigrant Muslims permission to fight as they had been oppressed and expelled from their homes unjustly merely because they said, ‘Our Lord is God alone.’38 In the subsequent years, in the aftermath of offensives from their Meccan foes, the revelation endorses fighting,39 and finally prescribes fighting and gives a clear mandate and convincing rationale to fight those who attacked them, allowing them to fight back if attacked in the traditional sacred months.40
Meanwhile, the Quraysh were greatly alarmed at Muhammad’s turn of fortune and waited for an opportunity to get rid of him. Hearing reports that Muhammad had left Medina with his followers to attack their trading caravan returning with goods from Syria past Medina, they sent a powerful army to eliminate them once and for all. The stage was set for the first major battle in Islam.
The commander of the Quraysh army (Abu Jahl, not named in the Qur’an) was boastful and took the expedition as an easy way to fame.41 (The Prophet meanwhile had) summoned his people to accompany him (on a mission), but some were averse to it (not knowing the destination).42 Many of his companions hoped that they were heading for the unarmed one (the Meccan trading caravan).43 They camped at one end of the valley of Badr, while the Meccan army approached from the other end, and their trading caravan passed close by unnoticed as God had willed.44
(Just before the battle) the Prophet had a dream in which he saw the Meccans small in number. Had the Prophet seen their full strength, (and disclosed it), many of his followers would have been disheartened and would have disputed over the matter.45 As the truth became clear to the Muslims (that they had to fight against the powerful Quraysh army), they were struck with horror,46 without realizing that it was God’s scheme to verify the truth of His Words and to cut the root of the pagans.43 The hypocrites and those weak in faith thought that their faith had deluded them.47
The Muslims prayed for God’s help, and were inspired with the hope that God will help them with one thousand angels, one after another.48 God had ordained this hope in their hearts merely to reassure them,49while God covered them with drowsiness as security from the divine and showered rains to refresh them with it, to drive from them the defilement of Satan, and to strengthen their hearts and make their feet steady.50 Furthermore, God inspired them through the angels that He was with them and He cast terror into the hearts of their pagan enemies.51
As the Muslims met the Meccan army, God made this army seem trifling in their eyes, just as He made the Muslims appear to be of little concern to the Meccans.52 (The revelation) commanded the Prophet to inspire his followers and assured them that if they persevered patiently, they would overcome the attackers, even if they were twice or ten times as many.53
The revelation urged the Muslims to stand firm and remember God a lot when facing the army,54 and exhorted them to obey God and His Prophet, and to avoid rifts, lest they lose courage and spirit, and to remain patient,55 and not to retreat during the battle except as a strategic move, or to regroup.56
(As the battle began) the devil who had assured them (the attackers) of success turned around and absolved himself of all his responsibilities and stood in terror of God.57 (So, the Muslims won a decisive victory) and took many captives,58 and the Prophet is asked to tell them (the captives) that if God recognizes any good in their hearts, God will give them better than what was taken from them.59 (The revelation tells the Quraysh), if they wanted a judgment it was before them, and warns them to desist from any further attack and declares that their army, however large, will avail them nothing.60 To console the Muslims at the loss of their next of kin and relatives who were among the attackers, (the revelation declares that) God had ordained the killing to test the believers, and to thwart the evil design of the pagans.61 As for the spoils that were collected from the battlefield, (the revelation prescribed) a fifth share for God and the Messenger, and the rest for relatives, orphans, and the needy and the traveler. 62
The Muslims’ victory at Badr coincided with the Christian Byzantines’ victories against their powerful conquerors, the Persians, realizing a Qur’anic twin prophecy, made many years previously.63 This must have strengthened the faith of the believers and put terror into the hearts of the Quraysh.
The Quraysh now made massive preparations, collaborated with the nomadic tribes hostile to Muhammad and sent a combined army, which camped at the plane facing Mount Uhud, a few miles from Medina. The second major battle against the Muslims was soon to begin.
(The revelation had meanwhile urged the Muslims) to prepare against their attackers with whatever arms and cavalry they could muster, and to avert fighting if their enemies were inclined toward peace.64
Since the enemies were very powerful, the leaders of the community were keen to avert fighting. They argued that the invaders might eventually withdraw without a fight as was customary after a siege - as desert conditions were too harsh for sustaining any siege for long.
(The revelation commanded Muhammad) to urge the believers to fight without compelling anyone,65 (and reminded the believers) that at Badr also they were weak and helpless,66 and inspired them with God’s promise of sending down three thousand angels,67 and declared that if they stood firm and dutiful in the face of a sudden attack, God would assist them with five thousand angels, swooping down.68 (As in the battle of Badr),49 God had made this (promise) only to set their hearts at peace,69 and thus to enable them to overthrow their enemies and repulse their attack.70
On way to the battleground a faction of Muslims (led by Ibn Ubayy)71 withdrew saying, if they knew how to fight, they would have followed the Prophet.72 They also divulged matters of secrecy or alarm to others, instead of informing the matter to the Prophet and those with authority.73
(On the day of the encounter), the Prophet left early in the morning to put his people at battle stations.74 Initially, the Muslims made decisive gains, when some of the fighters weakened: they argued over the order and disobeyed after God showed them what they loved of this world (victory/booty).75 They ran off, paying attention to no one and ignoring the Prophet calling them from behind. (The attackers struck back in full force and thus) God repaid them (the Muslims) with affliction upon affliction so that they would not sorrow over what slipped away from them.76 Two of their factions almost lost hope.77 (The revelation urged the defenders) not to despair or grieve78 (and consoled them that) if they were wounded, their enemies had also sustained injuries, (and reminded them that) these were the days of changing fortune to which God subjects humankind to know which of them truly believe,79 that He may purge those who believe and destroy the unbelievers.80
Finally, the Prophet was struck unconscious and word spread that he was killed. The attackers took the rumour on face value and left the field in glory and pride. The survivors were traumatized, and lay wounded and lifeless in the field, struck with grief at the loss of some 62 of their men.
God sent down a sense of security – an inner peace over a group of them (who were firm in faith) while others who had been anxious about themselves, were assailed with the thoughts of pagan ignorance. They said, ‘if we had any say in the matter our men would not have been killed.’81 Those, who had stayed back said of their brethren: ‘Had they obeyed us, they would not have been killed.’82 (The revelation reminds them that) Muhammad was merely a messenger, other messengers had passed away before him, (and asks,) if he died or was killed would they turn on their heels? 83
Soon after the initial confusion of the battle, the Prophet planned a chase of the Quraysh army on their way to Mecca. (The revelation promised) the wounded followers of the Prophet who responded to his call: those among them who did good and remained heedful (wattaqu), a splendid reward 84 and exhorted them not to let up in pursuit,85 which however ended without any engagement, as they could not catch up with the Quraysh army.
The defeat at Uhud was very frustrating to the hypocrites (Ibn Ubayy and his followers). They used their faith as a cover to lead others away from Muhammad.86 They were charming in looks, deceitful in speech and commanded profound self-confidence,87 and turned away from the believers in arrogance.88 They discouraged the people of Medina [Supporters] from spending anything for the Meccan Muslims [Emigrants] in order to force them out of Medina,89 and looked forward to the expulsion of the humble ones (Muhammad and the Emigrants) after their return to Medina.90
Some of them pretended obedience in public, but schemed against the Prophet by night,91 and befriended the disbelievers.92 The Prophet’s followers were, however, in two minds about these hypocrites.93 (The revelation commands them) not to argue on their behalf,94 and asks the Prophet not to plead on their behalf.95
It was due to mercy from God that the Prophet was mild to the dissenters (who harbored doubts against him during the Uhud battle and defied him).96 (Later, the revelation reassures them that) no prophet could be false to his trust (by giving his own decision in God’s name).97
There were three native Jewish tribes: the Qaynuqas, the Nadirs and the Qurayzahs. They lived in their respective settlements: the Qaynuqas in the heart of Medina, side by side with the Muslims and the pagans; the Nadirs, a few miles away; and the Qurayzahs in the outskirts of Medina. They had adopted Arab culture, spoke an Arabic dialect, and except for their Judaic faith, formed an integral part of the multi-tribal society of Medina, then an extended oasis, rather than a town in the modern sense.
While the Jews were a closed community and lacked unified leadership, the Muslims were a growing community (because of conversions) and were completely united under the supreme leadership of the Prophet. This was disturbing to the Jews, and they remained suspicious of the Prophet’s ultimate motive. However, one day their suspicion turned into a great shock. During a prayer, the revelation commanded a change in the direction of prayer (from Jerusalem to the Ka‘bah), 98 signally a separate religious identity for the Muslims. Since the revelation had described the Ka‘bah, as the first House of worship built by Abraham,99 the new prayer direction (Qiblah) virtually appointed the Muslims as the true representatives or spiritual successors of the Prophet Abraham, the forebear of Moses, their Prophet, the first Patriarch of all Jewish people, and the archetype of pure monotheism. From their perspective, Muhammad had hijacked their spiritual heritage and laid the foundation of an independent Semitic faith that could claim greater genuineness and purity than their own. Not many months later, they got the news of Muhammad’s victory at Badr. They were shattered.
Shocked and confused at the sudden change of qiblah towards a direction (Ka‘ba) they identified with paganism at this stage,98 the Muslims, by and large, failed to realize what went through the hearts and minds of their Jewish brethren. The revelation, however, brings the truth across. The Muslims loved them, but they did not love the Muslims, and they wouldn’t have done so even if the Muslims believed in the whole of their scripture. When they met the Muslims, they would pretend to believe but when they were alone, they bit their fingertips at them (the Muslims) in rage. Moreover, if any good befell the Muslims it grieved them; but if something bad happened to them, they rejoiced at it.100 Thus they loved what distressed the Muslims, spoke maliciously against them, and what their breasts concealed was even worse.101 However, malice alone could avail nothing. The Jews had to do something before it was too late.
The Qaynuqas reacted by refusing to accept the Prophet’s arbitration in a local dispute, defying the treaty they had made with him upon his arrival.
(The revelation asked Muhammad) to break off relations with treacherous people, and inflict crushing defeat in war to those of their allies who repeatedly broke their treaty.102 The Qaynuqas were made to surrender, and were allowed to leave Medina.
The Nadirs watched the expulsion of the Qaynuqas with consternation and waited for their chance to act. Uhud gave them the opportunity: the Muslims had suffered heavy casualties and were demoralized. The hypocrites had turned against Muhammad. So, they broke their ties with him, and made an alliance with the Meccans; and to please them, declared that the idol worshippers were more rightly guided than the Muslims.103
Meanwhile, an assassination plot leaked out, and the Prophet demanded their expulsion from the oasis for breaking their treaty, and finally on their refusal to comply, laid siege on their settlement. The Nadirs counted on the hypocrites for their pledged support, but they never turned up.104 (Finally, as a prelude to an attack) Muhammad ordered his men to cut their palm trees down.105 The Nadirs surrendered without a battle, and were allowed to depart in full dignity and complete safety with as much of their possessions as their camels could carry. However, the Muslims made material gains in terms of what was left by the people of the settlement (the Nadirs), without having to drive horses or camels for it. (The revelation reserved) it for God and His Messenger, relatives, orphans, the needy and the traveler, so that it didn’t circulate among the rich in their midst.106
With time, it became clear to both the Quraysh and the Jews that either they had to destroy Muhammad and his followers, or the reverse might happen. So they had no option but to go for an all-out war.
They [the Quraysh] formed a military confederation with the powerful Jewish tribe of Khaybar (a settlement some 85 miles from Medina) and the nomadic tribes opposed to the Prophet. Their armies approached Medina in a coordinated manner, while the powerful Qurayzah (Jews) of Medina stood by to strike or let the invaders attack the Muslims from the rear. It was almost check and mate in a war game. Muhammad consulted the matter with the community and upon the suggestion of a Persian convert, Sulman Farassi, got a deep trench dug around the town to keep the invaders at bay as he was in no position to face them. The attackers were soon to arrive.
They came on them, waves upon waves. (As the Muslims watched them from distance,) their eyes dimmed and their hearts rose up to their throats and they imagined (weird) thoughts about God.107 This was a moment of trial for the believers as they were shaken by a most violent shock.108 (On the other hand) the hypocrites and those with sickness in their hearts said what God and the Prophet of God had promised was mere illusion.109 A party of them said to others to go back as it was no (safe) place for them, and a party of them sought the Prophet’s permission saying that their homes were exposed, though they were not exposed and they only wanted to flee.110 But had the enemy entered (the city) from the sides and asked them to dissent and join a civil war, they would have readily done so,111 despite their oaths of allegiance.112
The siege lasted for a month, and it was only the Qur’anic exhortations and the Prophet’s exemplary leadership that kept the Muslims from surrendering.113 But finally God repulsed the pagans in their rage by a severe storm114 and forces invisible.115 By this time the attackers had run short of provisions, and more importantly, their tents and riggings were blown away by the storm. So they departed in a hurry, and the Muslims were spared a crushing defeat and virtual annihilation. God then brought down from their fortifications those People of the Book (the Qurayzah) who had backed the attackers and cast terror into their hearts: some of them were slain, some were taken captive116 and their lands and houses and goods were seized.117
In the sixth year of Hijra, the Prophet had a dream in which he saw himself and his followers entering the Sacred Mosque (the Ka‘bah) in complete security, heads shaved (or hair cut short) and without fear, 118and he declared his intention to perform the pilgrimage. The nomadic Arabs who were weak in faith preferred to stay back,119 as they thought the Prophet and the believers would never be able to return to their families.120
The Prophet set off for pilgrimage with some one thousand of his followers, all in pilgrim garb, not geared for any combat. The Quraysh sent a cavalry squadron under the command of Khalid Ibn al-Walid, a veteran of the battle of Uhud and Trench, to intercept the caravan. The pilgrims made a detour and camped at Hudaybiyah, some nine miles from Mecca; and a powerful Quraysh army camped nearby threatening them with total destruction, as they had not come with any preparations for war. The pilgrims waited in gnawing uncertainty - tormented, agonized and utterly confused about the dire predicament their faith had brought them to, when God sent divine peace (Sakinah) down into their hearts to add faith to their faith.121 Inter-tribal rivalry and politics helped the pilgrims, and one of the nomadic tribes (The Khuza‘a) brought in provisions for the pilgrims and tried to mediate with the Quraysh on their behalf. Since uncertainty loomed large despite some exchange of envoys, the Prophet sought an oath of allegiance from his increasingly anxious followers. God was pleased with them (Muhammad’s followers) when they swore allegiance to him under the tree for He knew what was in their hearts, and He sent divine peace (sakinah) down on them and rewarded them with a way out,122 and soon a peace treaty was signed.
The Meccans dictated the terms of the treaty in a high-handed manner. It undermined the position of Muhammad as the Prophet of God, and was offensive and humiliating to the Muslims and seemingly to the sole advantage of the Quraysh.123 The Prophet’s companions were quite perplexed, though they remained unwavering in their faith, and in their allegiance to the Prophet. However, soon the Qur’an declares:
Indeed, We have (now) given you (O Muhammad!) a clear opening.124 God has promised you an abundance of gains that you will take, and He has expedited this for you, and it was God who held back the hands of your enemies from you as a sign for the believers.125 Even if the pagans fight you, they will turn their backs and will not be able to find any protector or any helper.126 This reassures the believers and their confusion was over.
As the revelation had declared, the Hudaybiyah treaty allowed for increased interaction between the Muslims and the nomadic tribes who were now free to form alliance with the Quraysh or the Prophet as they chose. This promoted conversion, and within one year of signing of the treaty, the Muslims had grown sufficiently in number to contain their perennial foes, the Meccans. Besides, the clauses of the treaty that were apparently unfavourable to the Muslims, worked in their favour and promoted conversion instead of restricting it.127
The Hudaybiyah treaty was no great reassurance to the Prophet. He knew well that the Jews and the members of the confederates hostile to him could reunite and wage yet another invasion. Meanwhile the revelation continued to warn the Prophet that the Jews came to him in disbelief and left in disbelief,128 listened to lies and distorted his words from their context by listening to others.129
The Jews had signed the treaty, mainly as a ploy to conspire against the Prophet. Accordingly, soon after signing the treaty they began organizing a large number of Arab tribes, hostile to the Prophet, to launch a surprise attack against Medina. As the Prophet got clear evidence of correspondence going back and forth between the Jews of Khyber and the Arab tribes, he decided to launch a campaign against Khaybar. The revelation had barred him from taking with him those Arab volunteers who had stayed back during the pilgrimage;130 he therefore set off for Khaybar with a small group (reportedly some 600) of only those devout followers who had accompanied him in the pilgrimage. The Jews of Khaybar had a strong and well-trained army, their fortified settlements were considered impregnable, and it was their last opportunity to destroy Muhammad. Thus, in military terms, Muhammad was courting disaster. However, after a series of encounters and sieges, the Jews surrendered. The Prophet concluded a peace treaty with them granting full liberties and military protection against a levy that was no different from what they paid to their old Bedouin protectors.
In the year 629, his ninth year in Medina, the Prophet performed the pilgrimage (though not in the hajj season) in accordance with the terms of the Hudaybiyah treaty. Soon after this pilgrimage, the two great Quraysh stalwarts, Khalid Ibn al-Walid, and 'Amr Ibn al-'As, who had fought against him at Badr and Uhud, entered the faith.
Muhammad now envisioned integrating his own people – the Quraysh, whom he loved,131 but could not bring to his faith.132 He was treaty bound not to interfere with the Meccans, and waited for an opportunity to realize his vision. This came about when the Quraysh took up arms against one of the Meccan tribes who had treaty alliance with him for defending them when attacked. The Prophet set off for Mecca with all his men, all armed for battle if needed.
(As the Muslims began to enter the city), the most fanatic among the Quraysh tried to resist when God sent divine peace (Sakinah) upon His Messenger and on the believers, and imposed on them the Word of restraint (Taqwa), as they were entitled to it and worthy of it.133
God withheld the hands of the Meccans from the Muslims and the hands of the Muslims from the Meccans.134 Had it not been so, the Muslims would have trampled on those believing men and believing women (among the Meccans) they were not aware of (as those Meccans had secretly become Muslims), and thus guilt and stigma would have befallen them unawares. Had the (Meccan) Muslims been separated out, God would surely have punished the disbelievers among them (the Meccans).135.
In the ensuing days, the Meccans came in groups to the Prophet to embrace the new faith,136 and the revelation reminded the Prophet to glorify God and seek forgiveness (and thus to remain humble).137
Shocked at the massive conversion of the Quraysh, the Hawazins, a powerful tribe proud of Arab paganism, sent a strong army (630) to retake the Ka‘ba: it ambushed the advancing Muslim army at the valley of Hunayn.
The numerical superiority of the Muslims that delighted them came to no benefit, and the earth, spacious though it was, narrowed on them and they were forced to retreat.138 God sent divine peace (Sakinah) upon the Prophet and on his followers and forces invisible and thus helped them to defeat the pagans.139 With this victory and continued entry of diverse nomadic tribes into Islam, the Muslims emerged as the most powerful community (Ummah) within the outreaching borders of Arabia. But the Prophet had a formidable task ahead of him.
In the aftermath of the pilgrimage (628), or probably, the Khaybar expedition (629), the Qur’an had predicted a potential military encounter against a people of great might.140 This had yet to be realized.
At this moment in history, the neighbouring Byzantine Empire posed a serious threat. They had decisively defeated their mighty adversary, the Persians in successive major battles in the preceding years,63 and now threatened the very survival of the Muslims under the Prophet, or after his demise. The Prophet knew that he must lead an expedition up north to the frontiers of Byzantium to realize the Qur’anic prophesy, and he asked his followers to make preparations for it. If there were immediate gains and a convenient trip, they would have followed the Prophet, but the destination was too far for them (about 350 miles).141Accordingly, the hypocrites ridiculed the Prophet in their hearts,142 privately joked about him,143 and tried to stir up discord and upset matters for him.144 Many of the Prophet’s followers preferred to stay back,145 and some of them requested him not to put them to such a hard test.146
Some Bedouin Arabs came to the Prophet (who was based in Medina) with excuses seeking exemption while others, who belied God and the Prophet, remained at home.147 The hearts of some of the believers nearly swerved, while three persons among the devout believers stayed back,148 and some of the hypocrites aimed at something that was beyond their reach.149
Eventually the Prophet’s company set off on this dangerous mission, and halted at Tabuk, about 250 miles from Medina.
Muhammad stayed there for ten days, made pacts with local rulers and important Jewish settlements and returned. This expedition demonstrated the Prophet’s faith and conviction in his mission for there could be no military or political justification of this highly risky venture.
The Muslims had never fought against an imperial army and had no supply lines to sustain an attack and were thus poised to a crushing defeat, and in case of a rout, total annihilation. The Byzantines on the other hand had just re-established their military supremacy in the region, having defeated their powerful enemy, the Persians in many successive battles in the preceding years.63 The fact that they did not challenge the ‘nomad Arabs’ as they must have thought of them, stationed at a day’s march for their cavalry, speaks of the awe the Prophet must have evoked in the heart of the mightiest empire of the era.
The Prophet’s safe return from his long and perilous journey to Tabuk, in sequel to his uninterrupted successes in the preceding years veritably crowned him as the king of the whole of Arabia.
Meanwhile the truth of the Qur’anic revelation was becoming increasingly clear as its seemingly unrelated passages were falling in place (Ch. 1.3). This created a great excitement all over the country and delegates came to Medina from faraway places to see the Prophet, to listen to the Qur’an, and to swear allegiance to the new faith. However, since there was no compulsion in religion, many nomadic tribes preferred idol worship, and remained hostile to Muhammad.
The Pilgrimages (631, 632)
As the Muslims were now settled in Mecca, the revelation adopted the yearly pilgrimage (hajj) as part of Islamic rite. They took part in their first pilgrimage - the great hajj as the Qur’an calls,150 with great enthusiasm, jubilation and religious fervor. The Prophet, however, could not attend it and sent Abu Bakr to represent him.
As the Prophet’s mission was nearing its end, urgent measures were needed to establish Islam as an historical reality, lest its powerful enemies could destroy it soon after the Prophet’s death. (Therefore, the Qur’an) gives an ultimatum of four months151 to all the hostile pagans who were breaking their treaty obligations.152 As to those with whom the Muslims had a treaty, they were given time until the treaty term expired,153 while those who sought peace were granted security and safe passage to a place of security (i.e. their tribal homelands).154 (The revelation further declared) that the pagans were spiritually unclean and were not permitted to approach the Sacred mosque after that year, and (since this meant loss of trade and gifts from the pilgrims), the Muslims were assured that God would enrich them from His bounty, if He wills.155
In the tenth year of hijra, the Prophet went to Mecca to perform the hajj. Meanwhile the Qur’an had declared its own completion (5:3/Ch. 1.2), and the Prophet died soon after his return from Mecca. This Hajj is remembered as the Farewell pilgrimage.
Throughout the Meccan period, Muhammad not only bore the wrath of the Quraysh but also lived under an immense burden of uncertainty lest the mystery of revelation might cease to recur. Therefore, the Qur’an devotes two early passages (including the 98th Sura) to console and reassure him:
“By the morning bright (93:1), and the night when it is still (2), your Lord (O Muhammad) has not abandoned you, nor is He displeased (3). And what comes later will be better for you than what came before (4), and soon your Lord will grant you, and you will be pleased” (93:5).
“Didn’t We expand your chest for you (94:1), and removed your burden from you (2) which weighed heavily on your back (3), and raised your reputation for you (4)? (Remember,) relief comes with distress (5). Indeed relief comes with distress (6). So when you are free, remain steady (7) and turn towards your lord with longing” (94:8).
(The Qur’an attests that) Muhammad was indeed God’s messenger on a straight path156 - a witness, a herald and a warner, 157 inviting others to God by divine leave - an illuminating lamp.158 (It declares that) the Prophet had neither strayed, nor was he misguided and did not say (anything) of his own whim, but was inspired with a revelation, taught by the mighty one (the Angel of revelation).159 (It affirms that the Prophet) did not know the unseen, nor was he an angel, but he simply followed the revelation,160 and it was not up to him to change the wordings of the revelation in any way.161 It proclaims that God sent the Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth, to distinguish it from all religions, however the pagans detested this.162
The Qur’an consoles the Prophet in his grief, 163 and anguish,164 and (asks him) not to stretch his eyes to what God bestowed on others,165 nor to feel depressed by their plots,166 nor to be unsettled by them.167 (It exhorts him) not to let his enemies obstruct him from the messages of God after it had been revealed to him,168 and to endure patiently what they say. (It asks him) to avoid them in a graceful avoidance,169 to ignore their insults and to trust in God,170 and to seek refuge in Him,171 and assures him that God was enough for him against those who ridiculed him.172 (It declares that Muhammad) was not a poet,173 nor possessed by a Jinn,174 neither was he a fortuneteller,175 nor insane;176 but he was endowed with rank and power before the Lord of the Throne,177 and was destined for an unending reward178 and that soon he would see and his enemies would see,179 which of them was demented.180
(The Qur’an asks its immediate audience) why they shouldn’t probe the revelation (lit., speech) lest what came to them hadn’t come to their ancient ancestors, and why have they not recognized the messenger of God and thus disavowed him?181 When one sign (revelation) replaced another and the Quraysh charged Muhammad with forgery, the Qur’an declares that only God knows (the scheme of the) revelation.182 (It exhorts the Prophet) to give the call, to be upright as he was commanded, not to follow their (his enemies’) whims, to believe in any scripture God revealed and to treat them all justly.183 (It, however, cautions him) that those who inherited the earlier revelations are themselves in doubt about the integrity of their scriptures and disturbed about it,184 and declares that the Gospel and the Torah foretold the coming of the Prophet and his broader role.185 Last, but not least, the Qur’an refutes any notion of an outsider coaching the Prophet on the ground that the Qur’an was in pure and clear Arabic whereas the tongue of the one they alleged was foreign.186
The Qur’an accords the Prophet the highest status in the community and declares that the Prophet had a greater claim on the believers than they had on each other, and his wives were their mothers.187 It prescribes etiquette for addressing him, conversing with him, entering his private quarters and observing normal courtesies, and forbids marriage with his wives after his death (33:53, 49:2-5).
“You who believe, don’t enter the Prophet’s (private) quarters unless you are given permission (to come) for a meal, (but) do not be (so early) as to wait around for its preparation. But when you are invited, then go in, and when you have taken (your) meal, then disperse, without (seeking) social conversation (Hadith) that annoys (yu’dhi) the Prophet, and he feels embarrassed to ask you (to leave); but God is not shy to ask you what is right. And when you ask (his wives) for anything (you need), ask them from behind a screen. That will be purer for your hearts as well as their hearts. It is not proper for you to annoy God’s messenger, nor to marry his wives after him: that would be serious with God” (33:53).
“You who believe, do not raise your voices over the Prophet’s voice, and do not be loud (while speaking to) him the way you (speak) loudly to each other, lest your actions miscarry without your noticing it (49:2). Those who lower their voices in the presence of God’s messenger are those whose hearts God has tested for piety (Taqwa); there is forgiveness for them and a great reward (3). Most of those who call out to you from outside (your) quarters do not use their reason (4). It would be better for them if they waited patiently until you came out to them, yet God is Most Forgiving and Merciful” (49:5).
This is a clear proof of the community’s love for the Prophet – they wanted to be around him all the time, and as the community of believers grew, the rush on the Prophet was enormous. This over-taxed the Prophet. God not only wished to protect the privacy of the Prophet but also to teach the community important social norms.
Muslim as well as non-Muslim scholars tend to devote their scholarship to the institutional history of the Prophet, but as for the persona of the Prophet, they segment it, idealize it or merely glance through it, and shelve it - as something abstract pertaining to the private and personal aspect of the Prophet’s life. However, it is imperative for Muslims to probe the persona of the Prophet as part of their fundamental religious obligation, as discussed later (Ch. 15).
One problem that is often faced in constructing the personality of the Prophet prior to the revelation from the illustrations of the Qur’an is its near silence on the matter as mentioned earlier. However, if we carefully study Qur’anic records, we can gain some clear insights into his personality.
First, we notice that the Quraysh brought numerous charges against the Prophet, such as those of fabricating the revelation, telling stories of the past, forging lies against God, and so on, but these were all centred around the revelation; they never ever questioned the integrity of his character. This clearly demonstrates that Muhammad must have been a person of impeccable moral character, who never gave himself to any form of vices – social, moral, political or ethical, indicating that he was a quiet and unobtrusive person, who never meddled in anyone’s affairs. Early reports also tell us that he was known as al-Amin (The faithful, the trustworthy) throughout Mecca before the revelation.
(The Qur’an declares that) unless God willed, the Prophet would not have recited the revelation to his audience, nor God would have taught it to them, (and it asks his audience to reflect on this) as the Prophet had lived with them for a lifetime before the revelation.188 This demonstrates that the Prophet had not displayed any literary or poetic genius, or any philosophical, psychological or theological insight prior to the revelation. This in turn indicates that the Prophet neither had any aptitude, nor grooming, nor ambition to found a faith or lead a faith community, let alone becoming the virtual ruler of the whole of Arabia towards the end of his life. His greatest gifts, apart from the power of revelation, were his noble personal qualities.
The Prophet was mild to his men even after their lapses in Uhud expedition.96 He readily excused others from taking part in Tabuk expedition.189 He offered food to uninvited guests, and cordially entertained them, even if they caused him annoyance, by staying on after the meal for socializing (33:53/3.15 above). The Prophet also displayed the most pristine form of generosity by praying for the forgiveness of his enemies.190 Accordingly, the Qur’an describes him as a noble messenger,191 endowed with a sublime character,192 faithful to his trust,193 and (a manifestation of God’s) mercy to believers,194 and to all humanity.195
Furthermore, the fact that the Prophet’s immediate company included the most eminent and learned men of the era - who were later to become caliphs, governors and generals - and that they all accepted his leadership as most humble and obedient followers clearly shows that there must have been something very extraordinary about the personality of the Prophet. According to early reports, the very presence of the Prophet had a compelling appeal, and his personality radiated some beautiful characteristics and aura (kiramat) that only those who were present in his company could perceive. As a result of these extraordinary virtues and characteristics, the Prophet developed a very special relationship with his companions that impressed all the contemporaneous observers and has perplexed his opponents ever since. This goes to explain why his companions would defy and sacrifice everything for the sake of the Prophet.
However, on a personal level, the Prophet was a mortal like others.196 He had no power to avert harm from himself, or to benefit himself, or to harm or guide others.197 Like most of fellow Meccans, he was unlettered,198 and could not read a book - for had it been so, the prattlers would have been skeptical.199 He was a messenger of God and his only mission was to convey (God’s message)200 with clarity;201 that he may deliver humanity out of darkness into Light.202
The revelation also prepared the Prophet for his Prophetic mission. It commanded him to pray through the late hours of night,203 and recite the Qur’an distinctively and attentively.204 It taught him practical compassion by commanding him to return evil with good,205 to sacrifice for others,206 and, by reproving him for frowning and turning away from a blind man, as he had intervened his conversation with some rich citizens (Quraysh leaders).207 (Last but not least, the revelation gave him) an unshakeable stability that prevented him from the prompting of his enemies to making some compromises.208
To sum up, let this write up shed light on the noble persona of the Prophet and reassure the readers in general that no matter what the propagandist literature contrives, Muhammad was indeed a noble man, even if he is not given the credit of being God’s messenger. As for the Muslims exposed to any unsympathetic account of the Prophet – they should take it in the spirit of the following Qur’anic pronouncements.
“Thus we made for every messenger an enemy - Satans from among men and jinn, some of them inspiring others with seductive talk (in order to) deceive (them), and had your Lord pleased, they would not have done it. Therefore, leave them and what they forge” (6:112)
“Thus we made for every messenger an enemy among the criminals - but enough is your Lord (O Muhammad,) as a Guide and Helper” (25:31)
Since propagandist literature abounds and pervades the globe, we have enclosed a brief review (Enc.4) on the historical background to the polemics that is being unremittingly kept alive to belittle and malign the Prophet of Islam. Since the Prophet took many wives after the death of Khadija (620) – his first wife, and there have been many speculations about his marriages, we have reviewed this in a separate write up (Enc. 2) to clarify the matter for all.
Modern scholars explain the major events of the Prophetic mission in purely material terms based on their interpretations of the Prophet’s motives and their construction of history. Maxime Rodinson attributes the Prophet’s successes to his possessing “a patient and tireless cunning in the manipulation of men through the knowledge of their interests and their passions.”209 Ironically, they all fail to realize that the Prophet could’nt possibly plan or foresee many of the extraordinary events of his mission, which were, so to say, set up in such a way that defies material explanation. The major events of his life as reviewed in this discourse are recapitulated below chronologically for the readers to reflect if Muhammad could, by any stretch of imagination, set them up.
610 Despite Muhammad’s humble background, he readily attracted to his faith such eminent men as Abu Bakr and Uthman who were later to be elected (632 and 634 respectively) as the Caliphs of Islam.
616 The voluntary conversion of Umar, the most gifted of the Quraysh youth and fiercest of Muhammad’s enemies, who later became the most outstanding Caliph of Islam and extended its realm across to the neighbouring countries (Iraq, Persia, Syria and Egypt).
620 The Prophet claims to have a vision, that under the prevailing circumstances, was poised to increase the suspicion of the Meccans and to shake the confidence of his followers.26
620-621 The spontaneous spread of Islam in Medina through the ‘Aqaba visitors.
622 The Medinite delegates offer at ‘Aqaba to provide shelter, sustenance and protection to the Prophet and the Emigrants, though they knew full well that the largely urban Emigrants would have no means of livelihood in the agricultural economy of Medina.
622 Muhammad’s success in secretly leaving Mecca eluding the Quraysh.
622 The Qur’an predicts an eventual homecoming of the Prophet.29
623 Muhammad’s success in establishing himself as virtually the civil and political head of Medina soon after his arrival from Mecca.30
624 An abrupt change in Qiblah (direction of prayer) from Jerusalem to Ka‘ba that shocked the Prophet’s followers (as at that moment they identified Ka‘ba with Arab paganism),98 and bewildered the Jews (as this virtually amounted to the hijacking of their Abrahamic heritage.)
624 The Medinite Muslims’ unexpected victory at Badr against an overwhelmingly powerful army, which realized Qur’anic twin prophecies made many years previously about the victory of the Muslims and the Byzantines.62
625 The Medinite Muslims’ willingness to fight against the enormously superior Quraysh army at Uhud at great personal risk, though, like one of their factions (Ibn Ubayy and his followers), they could hold back as they were not treaty bound to protect Muhammad outside of Medina.71
625 The readiness of the mostly wounded Medinite Muslims’ from the Uhud battle to accompany the Prophet, himself wounded, to pursue the victorious Quraysh army on their way back to Mecca.85
625 The Medinite Muslims’ unwavering commitment to the Prophet in the aftermath of Uhud battle that was veritably imposed on them by the Prophet and had left some 62 of them dead and practically the rest of the combatants, wounded.84
627 The failure of the combined forces of the Quraysh and their allies to overpower Muhammad in his besieged position in the Battle of Confederates.114,115
627 Muhammad sets off for Mecca with his followers in pilgrim garb, unarmed for combat, to perform the pilgrimage at the Ka‘ba, risking annihilation at the hands of the Quraysh.
627 Despite seemingly humiliating and compromising terms of the Hudaybiyah treaty, the Qur’an describes it as a ‘clear opening’ (victory),124 and so it turns out as history unfolds.
628 The conversion to Islam of the two most brilliant military commanders of the Quraysh, Khalid and 'Amr, who had previously fought against Muhammad.
629 The assimilation of Mecca without the striking of a blow, that realized the Qur’anic prophesy of his eventual return to his destination.29
627 The Qur’anic prophesy on Tabuk expedition that was realized in 630.141
If we take the odds at a minimum of one in thousand against the above listed 19 extraordinary events to happen in the career of a person, the collective odds against the Prophetic mission (encompassing all these extraordinary events) stand at 100019 or 1057. While this may sound empirical, theoretical or even outlandish, we must at least consider the concluding remarks of Maxime Rodinson, a great scholar and historian of our era, openly skeptical of the revelation:210
“It is not belittling Muhammad to see him as a political figure – but to see him as no more than that would be a mutilation. And anyone who thus mutilates Muhammad is in fact mutilating himself in the domain of knowledge.”
2. Two of the Qur’an’s early Suras (105, 106), refer to the Quraysh as a tribe that sent trading caravans in winter (to the Yemen) and summer (to Syria), and allude to God’s decimating, for their security, troops with war elephants, with ‘flocks of birds’ pelting rock-hard clay (sijjil) upon them. The event is reported in the annals follows:
Around 570, Abrahah, the Christian viceroy of Yemen led a powerful army against Mecca to destroy the Ka‘ba, which, as the center of idol worship, attracted pilgrims from all over Arabia promoting trade and commerce in Mecca to the detriment of his country’s interest. He had war elephants leading his army to overwhelm the Quraysh who were not expected to have ever seen this creature. His army was however decimated as ‘decreed by God,’ such as by some natural calamity - probably outbreak of a deadly epidemic, caused by an airborne virus, allegorically referred to as birds pelting ‘rock-hard clay’ (sijjil). The wordsijjil, is among the evocative words of the Qur’an as mentioned earlier (Note 6/Preface).
3. 21:36, 25:41, 83:29-31.
4. 30:58, 44:14, 68:51. [The word mubtilun in 30:58 is rendered as ‘imposter’, and majnun in the other verses as ‘madman’]
6. 18:56, 26:6, 37:14, 45:9.
7. 38:5, 50:2.
8. 6:25, 23:83, 27:68, 46:17, 68:15, 83:13.
9. 6:37, 11:12, 13:7, 17:90-93, 21:5, 25:7/8, 29:50.
11. 25:5, 44:14.
12. 34:43, 38:4.
13. 11:13, 32:3, 38:7, 46:8.
14. 21:3, 43:30, 74:24.
15. 10:2, 37:15, 46:7.
16. 17:47, 23:70, 34:8.
18. 8:26, 85:10. The Qur’anic summary statements compress a history of persecution lasting over a decade, and therefore some illustration is needed to give the reader an idea of the plight of the early converts in Mecca.
Barring a small group of believers, the whole Meccan society had turned against the Prophet. The most bitter of his enemies was Abu al-Hakam, whom the Muslims renamed Abu Jahal (Father of ignorance). A leading member of the Quraysh, he headed the opposition against Muhammad, actively persecuted the converts belonging to the lower strata of the society, and persuaded his powerful allies to torture and brutalize their weaker converts. Thus, Umayyah, one of the clan chiefs would leave his Abyssinian slave Bilal in the desert in blazing sun with a heavy stone tied to his chest; his groaning echoed across the plain and could be heard in the neighboring districts. Abu Bakr however relieved him of suffering by buying his freedom from his master. Others were less fortunate. Yassir and Sumaiya could not endure the sufferings and died.
19. 19:16-21. The passage reads as follows: “(Thus is) Mary mentioned in the Book: When she withdrew from her family to a place in the East (19:16), and secluded herself from them, We sent her Our Spirit, and he appeared to her as a man in perfection (17). She said: ‘I seek refuge in the Benevolent against you, if you do heed (God).’ (18) He said: ‘I am only an emissary from your Lord, and bring you (the news of) a sinless son.’ (19) She said: ‘How can I have a son, when no man has touched me, and I have not been wayward?’ (20) He said: ‘So be it’: Your Lord says, 'that is easy for Me; and We shall appoint him as a Sign to humanity and a Mercy from Us.' Thus is the matter decreed" (19:21).
22. 6:34, 6:115, 18:27.
23. Sura 111. The opening verse of this Sura (111:1) spells disaster for Abi Lahab, an expression that literally means ‘one who flares up’. However, according to traditions, one of the Prophet’s uncles, ‘Abd al-‘Uzza was nicknamed Abu Lahab (lit., ‘One of glowing countenance’, because of his appearance). Tradition also tells us that Abu Lahab’s wife bitterly hated the Prophet, so much so that she threw filth on him and put thorns on his path. The Sura concludes with damnation of his wife (111:4/5) thus indicating that Abi Lahab (111:1) is no other than Abu Lahab.
25. al-mi‘raj: According to a popular version, the Prophet traveled on the back of a winged creature, Buraq, which bore him to the site of the ruined temple of Solomon (now the Dome of Rocks). There the Prophet led the greatest of the prophets in a congregation prayer, and then, mounted on his steed (Buraq), he ascended to the seventh heaven, passing each heaven one after another, meeting one or the other Prophet in each of them, and finally having an encounter with the Presence of God – all in a space of a few hours - Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, English translation by Ismail Ragi, 8th edition, Karachi 1989, p. 140.
30. Maxime Rodinson explains the most unexpected and inexplicable transformation of the Prophet’s status in Medina – within a space of a few months - from the spiritual head of a minority Muslim community to virtually the civil and political head of all its diverse communities, including some prosperous Jewish and prominent pagan tribes, in these unsubstantiated words: “It was to take all the wits and adroitness of Muhammad and his counsellors, further aided by circumstances and social forces, to turn this [the Prophet’s] moral authority into an effective practical power.” Muhammad, English translation, 2nd edition, London1996, p.155.
32. 2:8, 2:14.
36. Martin Lings (Abu Bakar Siraj al-Din), Muhammad, U.K. 1983, p. 136/137.
40. 2:216, 2:190-194.
42. 8:5. The Qur’anic record: some were averse to this expedition (of Badr), repudiates the traditional account that the Prophet planned to raid a Quraysh trading caravan returning home (Medina) with rich merchandize. Had this been the case, the Prophet’s followers would have been enthusiastic about the mission, rather than averse to it.
43. 8:7. This verse attests that the Prophet’s followers did not know where they were heading for.
62. 8:41. This is the only verse in the Qur’an that deals with the distribution of the ‘gains’ made in the war. There is one other verse 8:1, which specifically mentions about the spoils (of war) (anfal). However one of the most renowned and learned scholars of the era, Christopher Hitchens, connects the title of the 8th Sura (al-Anfal) with ‘Koranic justification’ ‘for the despoilment and destruction of non-believers’ – a remark that blatantly distorts the historical context of these two verses, and contradicts the message of the Qur’an on peaceful interfaith relations: god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Toronto 2007. p. 26.
63. Between 613 and 616, which fell in the Meccan period (610-622) the Persians defeated the Byzantines in a number of major battles, successively, and almost destroyed their Empire. This greatly disappointed the Prophet’s followers, who sympathized with the Byzantines, as they were Christians and believed in One God, while the Persians worshipped fire. At that moment, the Qur’an declared:
“The Romans have been defeated (30:2), in the nearby land, and after their defeat they will be victorious (30:3) within a few years: God’s is the command in the past and in the future - and on that day the believers will rejoice" (30:4).
True to this prediction, by 625/626, following a series of decisive victories, Emperor Heraclius drove the Persian army out of the furthest regions of his Empire, and the Muslims defeated the powerful Quraysh at Badr.
71. ‘Abdullah Ibn Ubayy was a prominent Medinite leader who would have been the head of all Medina had the Prophet not arrived: he embraced Islam for expediency, and waited to see how the movement grew.
98. 2:143: As this verse records, the change in qiblah was a great (shock) for the Muslims except those God had guided. The revelation had already endorsed the spiritual significance of Jerusalem in the Prophet’s vision (24 above) and the change in qiblah virtually meant turning away from the focal point of their faith, and facing towards a pantheon of idols that the Ka‘ba represented at that stage.
99. 3:96, 2:127.
116. 33:26. The classical biography of the Prophet suggests that some 800-900 Jews were slain for their betrayal. As argued in Enc. 1, this figure, in all probability, is highly inflated.
123. First, Muhammad was not mentioned in the document as God’s Prophet. Second, the pilgrims were required to return to Medina without performing the pilgrimage and were permitted to visit after one year from the treaty date. Finally, it called for the sending back of all new Meccan converts (as from the date of the treaty) joining the Prophet’s camp without the permission of their guardians, but did not impose a reciprocal condition on the Quraysh, who were thus not obliged to send back any apostate deserting the Prophet and returning to Mecca.
124. 48:1. The word fatah in this verse rendered as ‘opening’ also connotes ‘victory.’
127. True to the terms of the treaty the Prophet refused to accept the converts who fled Mecca in the aftermath of the treaty. So the new Meccan converts formed a parallel community of Muslims outside of Medina. Subsequently, some of the new Meccan converts stayed back in their native city secretly preaching Islam. The Meccans did not like this and in less than a year of signing the treaty, they unilaterally requested the Prophet to annul this clause, thus lifting a big hurdle from the path of Islam.
130. 48:11, 48:15.
148. 9:117/118. Some commentators connect the numerical reference (three) with three groups of believers, rather than three individuals - Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Chap. 9, Note 155.
149. 9:74. Classical commentators regard the expression, something beyond their reach, as an allusion to an attempt by a group of hypocrites to kill the Prophet on way to Tabuk. The imperial Byzantines army was massive in strength, well organized, well equipped and regularly drilled, had strong cavalry divisions and extensive combat experience, and did not risk any supply shortage as it stood on home ground. The Prophet’s army on the other hand consisted of an assemblage of warriors drawn from diverse Arab tribes on a relatively short notice, and was no match to the Byzantine army. Any military strategist of the era would have instantly predicted an utter defeat and annihilation for the Prophet’s army, attacking the mighty Byzantines - some 300 miles away from their own base (Medina). So the hypocrites must have questioned the Prophet’s sanity, and planned to finish him off.
155. 9:28. The expression masjid al-Haram rendered as the ‘Sacred mosque’ literally means the Ka‘ba, including the adjacent pavement and the place where Abraham stood for prayer, as it stands to this day. However, the Qur’an also uses this expression in a broader sense to denote the sacred precincts (2:191, 17:1) - the region covering a couple of square miles, centered round the Ka‘ba, where the pilgrims must enter in pilgrim garb.
156. 36:3/4, 43:43.
157. 2:119, 5:19, 33:45, 34:28.
160. 6:50, 10:15.
161. 10:15, 69:44-46.
162. 9:33, 61:9.
164. 7:2, 15:97, 20:2.
166. 16:127, 27:70.
170. 26:217, 33:3, 33:48, 67:29.
171. 7:200, 41:36.
173. 36:69, 69:41.
174. 7:184, 34:46.
175. 52:29, 69:42.
176. 52:29, 68:2, 81:22.
185. The Qur’anic verse 61:6 quotes Jesus, heralding the arrival after him of ‘a messenger by the name Ahmad, most praise worthy’ whom it identifies with the Prophet Muhammad. Muslim scholarship claims that thisAhmed is the same messenger who is referred to as ‘helper’ or ‘comforter’ in the Gospel (John 14.16, 15.26, 16.7). They argue that the Aramic language, in which in all probability the original Gospel was revealed, has the word Mawhama for ‘Praise worthy,’ which translates into Greek as Periklytos, and claim that while translating from Greek into Latin the word Periklytos was corrupted to a similar sounding word Parakletosthat connotes ‘helper’ or ‘comforter,’ and that the corruption persisted while translating from Latin into English (around the 14th century CE), and thus the messenger referred to as ‘helper’ or ‘comforter’ in the Gospel is no other than the Prophet Muhammad. In yet another passage, the Qur’an declares:
“[God will confer His grace upon those who believe in His messages]* – those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet of whom they shall find written in the Torah and the Gospel that is with them – (the Prophet who shall) enjoin the good, forbid the evil, make lawful all good things and unlawful, all bad things; and shall lift from them their burdens and shackles that were upon them (before). Therefore, those who believe in him, honor him and help him, and follow the Light that is bestowed from on high through him – it is they who shall succeed” (7:157). *[The bracketed words draw on the preceding verse.]
188. 10:16, 42:52, 12:3.
190. 9:80/84/113. These verses demonstrate that the Prophet used to pray for the forgiveness of his enemies. In the verse 9:80 he is told that even if he prayed for them seventy times, God will not forgive them as they had rejected God and His Messenger.
196. 3:144, 18:110, 41:6.
197. 10:49, 72:21.
200. 5:99, 7:158,13:40, 42:48.
201. 5:92, 16:82, 24:54.
202. 14:1, 57:9.
209. Maxime Rodinson, Muhammad, English translation, 2nd edition, London 1996, p. 221.
210. Ibid., p.xviii.
4. Qur’anic Reflections on Nature
The Qur’an is alive with reflections on the beauty and harmony of nature and on its relationship with life as part of its ontological debate. These reflections are in the form of statements, which capture the laws of the cosmos in expansive open ways that captivate and beguile us by their beauty, majesty and accuracy. Thus for example, the following Qur’anic observations are picturesque and imaginative, and at the same time clearly indicative of the axial and the orbital rotations of heavenly bodies that science discovered many centuries later.
Merging (yulij) of the night into the day and vice versa (31:29).1
Overlapping (yukawwir) of the night into the day and vice versa (39:5).
The incapability of the night to outstrip (sabiq) the day, and all (the heavenly bodies) floating in an orbit (falak) (21:33).2
Drawing of the night (as a veil) (yughshi) over the day, which it pursues ceaselessly (7:54).
The sun and the moon being constant (dai’bayn) in their courses (14:33).
A cross-section of the verses including those referred to above are rendered below to give a broad overview of the Qur’anic treatment of the subject.
“Your Lord is God who created the heavens and the earth in six periods, and is established on the Seat of Authority. He draws the night (as a veil) (yughshi) over the day (which) it pursues ceaselessly. He has subjected the sun, the moon and the stars to His Laws. Aren’t the creation and order up to Him? Blessed be God, the Lord of all the Worlds” (7:54).
“He has made serviceable to you the sun and the moon, both constant (dai’bayn) (in their courses) and He has made serviceable to you the night and the day” (14:33).
“He is the One who created the night and the day and the sun and the moon – each floating in an orbit (falak)” (21:33).
“Haven’t you seen that God causes the night to merge (yulij) into the day and the day to merge (yulij) into the night and has subordinated the sun and the moon (to His laws) – each running (its course) for a determined term – and God is Informed of what you do” (31:29).
“(God) created the heavens and the earth in accordance with the truth (universal laws). He causes the night to overlap (yukawwir) the day and the day to overlap (yukawwir) the night and has subordinated the sun and the moon (to His laws) – each running (its course) for a determined term. Isn’t this God Almighty, Most Forgiving” (39:5).
“In the creation of the heavens and the earth, (in) the alternation of night and day, (in) the ships that sail the ocean for the benefit of humanity, (in) the water which God sends down from the sky with which it enlivens the earth after its death and spreads out all kinds of creatures on it, (and in) the coursing of the winds and the clouds, compelled between the sky and the earth, are indeed signs for a people who use their reason” (2:164).
“God is the One who has raised the heavens without any pillars that you can see, and is firmly established on the Seat (of Authority). He has subjected the sun and the moon (to His laws), each running (its course) for a determined term. He regulates (all) affairs and spells out these signs that you may be certain about meeting with your Lord” (13:2).
“Don’t those who deny (God) see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (before), and We split them apart? We made every living thing from water. Won’t they still believe” (21:30).
“He sends down water from the sky, so that the valleys flow according to their measure, with the stream carrying the swelling froth (on its surface). And what they heat in the fire to make ornaments or utensils produces similar froth. Thus does God demonstrate truth and falsehood: as for the froth, it goes away like the foam, while what benefits humanity remains on earth. Thus does God draw comparisons” (13:17).
“(Say,) Who made the earth a settlement and put rivers in its clefts and set mountains on it, and placed a barrier between the two waters (sweet and saline): Is there any deity besides God? No, but most of them do not know” (27:61).
“He created the heavens without any pillars, you can see, and set firm mountains on earth - lest it might shake with you, and spread out on it all kinds of creatures; and We send down water from the sky, and We thereby produce every kind of noble species on it” (31:10).
“He is the One who sends the winds as good news heralding His mercy: when they have carried heavy laden clouds, We drive them to a dead land, sending down thereby water, wherewith We produce all kinds of fruits. Thus do We raise the dead, that you may be mindful” (7:57).
“Haven’t you seen how God drives the clouds, gathers them together, then piles them into layers, and you see a downpour emerging from within them? He sends down mountain-masses (of clouds) from the sky with hail in them, and He strikes with it anyone He wills, and diverts it from anyone He wills. The flash of its lightning almost takes away the sight” (24:43).
“He is the One who sends down water from the sky; thereby We bring forth all kinds of sprouts. And We produce therewith green (crops), out of which We produce heaps of grains. And from the date palm and its spathes, (hang) clusters (of dates) within reach, (and We produce) groves of grapes, and olives, and pomegranates, similar but different (in variety). Look at their fruit when they bear, and in its ripeness! There are signs in this for a people who believe” (6:99).
“And what He has multiplied for you on earth are in different colours. There is a sign in this for a people who are mindful (16:13). He is the One who has made the sea subject (to His Laws) that you may eat fresh flesh from it, and you extract from it gems that you may wear; and you see the ships cleaving through it, that you may seek some of His bounty, and thus be grateful (to Him)” (16:14).
“Don’t they see how the birds are governed in the air of the sky: none holds them up but God. There are signs in this for a people who believe” (16:79).
“Among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the living creatures that He has spread out in either of them. He has the power to gather them together when He wills” (42:29).
“He is the One who has spread out the earth and set on it mountains and rivers; and He made fruits of all (kinds) in pairs. He draws the night (as a veil) (yughshi) over the day. There are signs in this for a people who reflect” (13:3).
“Glory to the One who created in pairs all of them, that the earth produces, as well as their own (human) kinds, and (those) of which they have no knowledge” (36:36).
“The creator of the heavens and the earth: He has made for you pairs from among yourselves and pairs from among the cattle; thus he multiplies you. There is nothing like Him and He is Observant and Aware” (42:11).
“We have made everything in pairs that you may be mindful” (51:49)
A number of Qur’anic verses refer to the reproductive process in a woman’s foetus, touching on one or more stages of embryonic development. The stipulations of these verses are immaculately consistent and can be paraphrased into two statements: i) ‘Man is created out of a tiny drop (of semen), 3 which is established in a secured resting place,4 and transformed first into a clot (22:5, 23:14),5 then into a chewed (lump of) flesh - formed and unformed (22:5), then into bones, which are finally clothed with clean flesh (23:14). ii) God completes the creation of man in due proportions6 in his mother’s womb, through different stages of formation, within three (veils of) darkness (39:6).
“Surely We created man from an extract of clay (tin, inorganic matter) (23:12). We then placed him as a drop (of semen) in a secured resting place (13). We then transformed the drop into a clot and We transformed the clot into a chewed (lump of) flesh, and We transformed this chewed (lump of) flesh into bones, and We clothed the bones with flesh, and then We produced another creature from it. So blessed be God, the Best of Creators” (23:14).
“O people, if you are in doubt about the Resurrection, (consider) that We created you from dust (turab), then from a drop (of semen), then from a clot, then from a chewed (lump of) flesh, formed and unformed, that We may manifest (Our Power) to you; and We keep those We wish in the wombs for a determined term, then We bring you out as babies and then you (grow and) reach your prime. Some of you die (early) and some of you will be kept back until the feeblest age, so that they know nothing after having known (much); and (further), you see the earth barren and lifeless, but when We send down water on it, it is stirred (to life), it swells, and it puts forth every kind of beautiful species” (22:5).
“…He creates you in your mother’s womb - transformation after transformation, within three (veils of) darkness…”(39:6)
Any further elaboration of the Qur’anic stipulations to show their conformity with the latest scientific knowledge will be rather technical and detract from the subject, but it may suffice to quote the noted French surgeon, Maurice Bucaille quotation:7
“The Qur'anic description of certain stages in the development of the embryo corresponds exactly to what we know today about it, and the Qur'an does not contain a single statement that is open to criticism from modern science.”
The Qur’an also makes fleeting references to diverse mysterious phenomena that have come to light only in recent times with modern scientific advancement in different fields. Such verses are therefore highly technical in nature, and sound scientific knowledge will be required to grasp the essence of these verses, as briefly listed below.
Relativity of time: a ‘day’ in space may be as long as 1000 years 8 or 50,000 years.9
Reduction in oxygen content of air at higher altitudes.10
Three layers of tissues enclosing the embryo in a woman’s womb.11
Embryonic growth in a woman’s uterus with progress of pregnancy.12
Individual finger prints of humans.13
Role of wind in carrying pollens for certain plants.14
The ‘barrier’ between sweet water, and saline water.15
Creation of the universe from a single mass,16 and the evolution of all living things from water.17
The universe is expanding.18
Man’s potential to explore space and ocean beds. 19
Human pain receptors are located on the skin.20
The frontal lobes of the brain are responsible for lying and sins.21
Graduated layers of darkness in ocean depths, resulting in such intense darkness deep down the ocean that one can’t see one’s own hand.22
Participation of only female bees in the building of the hive.23
The existence of communities among all animals and living creatures.24
Preservation of the Pharaoh’s dead body with the parting of river Nile,25 though until the archaeological discovery of mummies in late 19th century, the Pharaoh was known to have died and perished.26
The verses cited in the foregoing under different sub-headings clearly show the extraordinary accuracy and consistency of Qur’anic stipulations on natural phenomena. Muhammad, or for that matter, any mortal in that era, had no means to repeatedly make axiomatic pronouncements on the various facets of nature for more than two decades without any reference to the prevalent myths and legends; and this reflects the extraordinary in the Qur’an.
3. 35:11, 40:67, 53:46, 75:37, 76:2, 80:19.
4. 23:13, 77:21.
5. 40:67, 96:2.
6. 75:38, 82:7.
7. Maurice Bucaille, The Bible, The Qur’an and Science, 5th edition, Paris 1988, English translation, p. 218.
15. 25:53, 27:61, 55:19.
17. 21:30, 24:45.
23. 16:68, For explanation, see Jeffery Lang, Struggling to Surrender, 2nd revised edition, Maryland 1998, p. 35.
26. The Bible, Exodus 14.28.
5. Creation of Human Being
The Qur’an reflects on the creation of human being in its typically condensed manner. Some of its verses relate to the Biblical episode,1 while others refer to the corporeal growth of human species (Insan, Bashar) from earth,2 and water;3 their procreation from their own selves,4 and the creative evolution of all living things from water.5
“When your Lord said to the angels: ‘I will place a deputy (Khalifah) 6 on earth', they said: ‘Will you place someone there who will spread corruption and shed blood, while we celebrate your praise and sanctify you?’ (God) said: ‘I know what you do not know’ (2:30). He taught Adam the names (Asma’a) of all things and then placed them before the angels and said: ‘Tell Me the names of these, if you are truthful' (31). They said: ‘Glory to you (O Lord)! We have no knowledge except what You have taught us. Indeed, You are All-Knowing and Wise’ (32). He said: ‘O Adam! Tell them the names of these. When he told them the names of those, God said: ‘Didn’t I tell you that I know the secrets of the heavens and the earth, and I know what you reveal, and what you have been hiding’ (33)? And We said to the angels: ‘Bow down to Adam’ and they bowed down, except Iblis: he refused, showed arrogance, and was among the ungrateful (34). We said: ‘O Adam! Dwell in the garden - you and your spouse; and eat from it plentifully when and as you please; but do not approach this tree, lest you become wrongdoers.’ (35) Then Satan made the two of them slip (and they ate of the forbidden tree) and got the two of them expelled from whatever state (of felicity) they were in. We said: ‘Clear out, all (you people), with enmity between yourselves, and you will have an abode and means of livelihood on earth for a time’ (36). Then Adam received the Words from his Lord who turned to him (in forgiveness); for He is Most Relenting and Merciful” (2:37).
Narrated in a number of immaculately consistent passages1 the Qur’anic crystallized reflections on Adam’s primordial episode can be very thought provoking, as illustrated below:
Humans are created as God’s deputy or delegate (Khalifah) and thus given a very special position and responsibility in Creation, but they are prone to bloodshed and corruption (2:30).
The angels celebrate the praise of God and sanctify Him (2:30).
God taught Adam the names (Asma’a) of all things (2:31). The Qur’anic plural word Asma’a (sing. ism) traditionally rendered as ‘names’ also connotes knowledge, virtue, quality etc. Thus, this pithy statement can be interpreted to imply God empowering humans with the faculty to identify and characterize every object individually.
Adam told them the names of ‘those’ he was shown before (2:33) indicates the power of human mind to recount things out of memory – a unique gift to humans.
God’s command to Adam, “But do not approach this tree” (2:35) evokes in him a curiosity and temptation and haunts him with a conflicting thought – whether to approach the tree or to keep away from it – a freedom of choice given only to humans.
Satan made ‘the two of them’ slip (2:36).
God’s warning: ‘Clear out, all (you people), with enmity between yourselves’, implies a plurality of the addressee that imparts an allegorical undertone to the entire episode centred around Adam and his spouse (2:36).
God forgives Adam (2:37).
Other related passages1 add the following dimensions to our reflections:
Upon eating of the forbidden tree “the two of them became conscious of their private parts (sexual morality)” (7:122, 20:122).
The role of Satan as an eternal tempter.7
“He is the One who created you from clay (tin) (inorganic matter), then decreed a term, and there is a determined term with Him. Yet you remain doubtful”(6:2).
“... He (caused) you to grow from the earth (ard) and settled you in it...”(11:61).
“He is the One who created human being (Bashar) from water and established for him relations of blood and marriage...” (25:54).4,5
As the culmination of the creative process of human being (Bashar), God breathes some of the divine spirit into it (15:29, 38:72),8 indicating that God alone is the source of all human virtues and intellectual potentials.
“And your Lord said to the angels: ‘I am going to create a human being (Bashar) from (dry) clay (Salsal), from a slimy mass (Hama) (organic matter) moulded (into shape) (15:28). When I have completed him (to perfection), and breathed into him from My Spirit, bow down to him’ (29). The angels bowed down - all together (30), except Iblis. He refused to be among those who bowed down” (15:31).
“And your Lord said to the angels: ‘I am going to create a human being (bashar) from clay (tin) (inorganic matter) (38:71). When I have completed him and breathed into him from My Spirit, bow down to him’ (72). The angels bowed down - all together (73) except Iblis. He refused, showed arrogance and was among the ungrateful” (38:74).
1. 2:30-37, 7:11-25, 15:28-40, 18:50, 20:116-123, 38:71-83.
2. 22:5, 23:12/Ch. 4.7, 30:20, 32:7, 35:11, 40:67, 71:17.
4. 30:21, 32:8.
6. khalifah connotes a successor - someone who has received an inheritance as a successor, and is varyingly rendered as deputy, delegate, vicar, agent etc. (6:165, 27:62, 35:39).
7. 7:17, 15:39, 38:82.
The Qur’an states, in no uncertain terms, that God has decreed the Day of Judgment. On that Day, God will judge each soul depending upon what it earned during the lifetime through faith and deeds, and any form of recommendation or intercession will not be accepted (2:48),1 except by divine permission.2
“Heed the day when no soul shall compensate for another* in any manner; when no intercession will be accepted from any (of them), nor ransom will be taken from any (of them), nor will they be helped” (2:48). *[Lit., ‘another soul’]
The Meccan Suras are full of warnings about the Day of Judgment and some of the Suras are wholly devoted to it.
The Qur’an describes the Day of Judgment in an immensely beautiful, overwhelmingly forceful, and highly allegorical language. As such, their rendering in human language is not meaningful. However, some illustrative passages are listed below to give some ‘metaphorical glimpses’ of this Final Event.
“When the sun is folded up (81:1), when the stars darken (2), when the mountains vanish (3), when the ten months (pregnant) camels are neglected (4), when the wild beasts are herded together (5), when the oceans overflow (6), when the souls are sorted out (7), when the infant girl buried alive is questioned (8) for what crime she was killed (9), when the Scrolls are unrolled (10), when the sky is unveiled (11), when the flaming fire is set ablaze (12), and when the garden is brought near (13) - then each soul shall know what it has prepared (for itself)” (81:14).
“When the sky is split asunder (82:1), when the stars are scattered (2), when the oceans burst forth (3), and when the graves are overturned (4), each soul will know what it sent forth, and (what it) left behind (5). O People! What has lured you away from your Noble Lord (6), who created you and completed you (in) due proportions (7), having put you together in whatever form He wished (8)? Yet you belie the Judgment” (82:9).
The Qur'an uses a highly allegorical and vibrant language to depict the delights of paradise, and the punishments of hell:
“God has promised the believing men and the believing women, gardens with streams running past, in which they will abide – goodly dwellings in the gardens of Eden – but approval from God is far greater (as a reward): that is the supreme triumph” (9:72).
“The foremost (sabiqun) (in faith and good deeds)3 will be the foremost (in reward) (56:10), and it is they who are drawn close (to God) (11) in gardens of bliss (12) - a multitude from the ancients (13), and a few from those of later times (14): on gilded couches (15), reclining on them, and facing each other (16). Around them will stroll immortal youths (17) - with glasses, goblets and cups (filled) from a fountain (18), which will not upset them, nor dull their senses (19). (They will have) any fruits they choose (20), and the meat of any fowl they wish (21), and companions (hur)4 with lustrous eyes (22) like the pearls hidden (in their shells) (23). (This will be) the reward for what they did” (56:24).
“When the sky splits open and becomes rosy like red hide (55:37) - which then of your Lord's bounties will you deny (38)? That day neither man nor any jinn shall be asked about his sin (39) - which then of your Lord's bounties will you deny (40)? The guilty shall be recognized by their features and will be seized by their foreheads and their feet (41) - which then of your Lord's bounties will you deny (42)?. This is the hell, which the guilty denied (43). They will go circling round between it and boiling water (44) - which then of your Lord's bounties will you deny” (55:45)?.
6.3. The relevance of punishment in the Qur’anic discourse
The graphic description of the punishments of hell might suggest that the Qur’anic equation of reward and punishment worked as stick and carrot to its simple audience leading to their conversion to Islam. Such an assumption may be too simplistic. Practically all the passages depicting punishment of hell- more than a score as listed by Ashfaque,5 date from the Meccan period, when the Quraysh vehemently rejected the revelation and derided the latter passages as the outburst of a crazy mind and the reflections of jumbled up dreams. Any significant conversion to the faith occurred only after the Hudaibiya Peace treaty, some twenty years into the revelation by which time all the passages referring to the punishment of hell had long been revealed. Besides, contrary to a popular belief, the Qur’an does not speak about any punishment or torture in the grave or in the span between death and resurrection.
The fact remains, as the Qur’an puts it, “man is intense in his passion for women, for hoarded up treasures, and glory, and power,”6 and these instincts, when go out of bounds, drive him to committing acts that displease God. The fear of punishment - either from a temporal court, or at an ineffable final reckoning restrains his criminal instincts. If there were no courts of law and no punishment, the criminals will dominate society and the weak and the innocent will be oppressed. In other words, the deterrent of punishment is essential to establishing justice and morality. So the Qur’anic references to punishment awaiting the sinners – no matter how they are described, were essential to its discourse that primarily aimed at establishing justice in the society and protecting the weak and the historically oppressed classes.
The Qur’anic pronouncements are, however, a clear reminder to all humanity – including the high and mighty, who cause collateral damages and human catastrophes through their actions and or decisions that they cannot escape the punishment of God, though their temporal, ecclesiastical, theocratic or official positions may have spared them from any temporal trial or punishment.
The Qur’an clarifies that its graphical descriptions of the rewards of paradise and punishments of hell are parabolic and allegorical, and declares:
“A likeness of the garden which the heedful (muttaqun) are promised (is that) streams run below it, its food and its shade are everlasting...” (13:35).
“No soul knows what delights* are kept secret for them as a reward for what they did” (32:17). *[Lit., ‘delights of the eye’.]
“A likeness of the garden which the heedful (muttaqun) are promised (is that) in it there are streams of water never brackish, and streams of milk, whose taste never changes, and streams of wine – delicious to those who drink, and streams of honey, pure and clear...” (47:15).
While Islamic theological literature abounds in speculations about the rewards of paradise and the punishments of hell, these ‘expositions’ catered to the intellectual and emotional needs of the era, are not rooted in the Qur’an, and can hardly be of any help to the believer. To earn God’s blessings, a believer needs the glow of faith, the love of God, and compliance with divine guidance, rather than the attraction of hur4 or fear of hell. However, the believers can take a lesson from the Qur’anic description of human state in hell and paradise, and in doing so, cultivate a behaviour pattern that can make their life pleasant on earth. Thus, for example, those in hell are described to be arguing, blaming, wishing to die, trying to rationalize, and also wondering why those they considered evil are not in hell, whereas people in the heaven are in peace and don’t utter wrong and are in deep gratitude.
The Prophet’s audience openly rejected the notion of resurrection and condemned it as the legends of the ancients (Note 8/Ch. 3.1). Those who deny it today are as skeptical of it, as the Prophet’s audience. Many questions may arise, even in the mind of believers, if they try to explain the resurrection, and all its potential ‘implications’. That is why believers are asked simply to believe in it as an article of faith (Ch. 2.1). The Qur’an, however, provides a rationale to reflect on the possibility of a second existence (56:62), and points to the divine scheme of transforming human being into some new form that we do not know (56:61, 21:104).
“Have you considered the seed* (56:58)? Is it you that create it or are We the Creators (59)? We have ordained death for you, and We are not to be prevented (60). Surely, We may change your forms and recreate you in (forms) that you do not know (61). You already know about (the miracle of) the first creation, so why aren’t you mindful” (56:62)? *[Lit., ‘what you emit’]
“On that Day We shall roll up the Heaven as the scroll is rolled up for books (completed); and just as We brought forth the first Creation, so shall We repeat it - a promise We have undertaken; surely We shall fulfil it” (21:104).
1. 2:254, 2:255, 2:281, 34:23, 40:18.
2. 2:255, 34:23.
3. The insertion of the bracketed expression ‘faith and good deeds’ after the word ‘foremost’ (sabiqun) is consistent with the concluding stipulation of the passage (verse 56:24) shown in bold, and is also supported by the Qur’anic usage of the root SBQ elsewhere in its text (2:148, 5:48):
“Everyone has a goal to which he turns: so vie (fastabiq) (with each other) in goodness …” (2:148). [Full text in Ch. 16]
“…We have made for everyone of you a (different) code (shir‘ah), and an open way (of action)... so vie (fastabiq) (with each other) in goodness…” (5:48). [Full text in Ch. 9.3]
4. As illustrated by Muhammad Asad (Message of the Qur’an), the word hur connotes the purest form of whiteness (Note 8, Ch. 56). The word also appears in the verses 44:54 and 52:20 with a qualifying epithet, ‘ayin, which means ‘the large eyed ones’. This has led the classical interpreters to associate this term with a female being - a woman, of fair complexion and large eyes. Such an interpretation has no Qur’anic basis, and is merely speculative, as the Qur’an promises paradise to the members of both the sexes (9:72/6.2 above). The Qur’an also uses the following gender-neutral terms/expressions to denote the companions of paradise:
a. qasirat at tarf in 37:48, 38:52, 55:56; literally, ‘such as restrain their gaze.’
b. atrab in 38:52, 56:37, 78:33; most commentators have connoted it with ‘well matched’ or ‘equal in age.’
c. khayratun hisan in 55:70. The expression combines two Qur’anic words on shades or categories of goodness: khayrah and hasanah (Note 24/Preface) and is thus suggestive of the noblest form of goodness.
As in the case of hur, the classical commentators have given the body of a woman to these allegorical expressions, and one can notice this even in modern translations by eminent scholars. Thus, Thomas Cleary, one of the most renowned translators of religious scriptures of modern era has translated qasirat at tarf as i) ‘demure women’ (37:48), ‘demure females’ (38:52), and ‘women who restrain their glances’ (55:56); atrabanas ‘wives’ (56:36) and ‘damsels’ (78:33); and khayratun hisan as ‘good women who are beautiful’ (55:70). – The Qur’an, A New Translation, USA 2004. Likewise, Michael Sells has translated khayratun hisan(55:70) as ‘women good and fair’ - Approaching the Qur’an, 2nd edition, Oregon 2007, p. 157.
Traditionally, some Muslim scholars have supported feminist personification of Qur’anic expressions on the ground that Qur’an refers to them in the feminine gender form. But this is not tenable. As with French, Arabic is grammatically gendered, and the Qur’an employs this grammatical nuance to create an evocative personification that leaves even the Arab readers puzzled (Note 8/Preface), and simply cannot be captured in a foreign rendition; example: ‘the earth grammatically feminine giving birth to its secrets.’ Those interested may consult Michael Sells work referred to and quoted above.
5. Ashfaque Syed, Index of the Qur’anic Topics, Maryland 1998, p. 589 to 616.
6. The expression under inverted comas combines the essence of the pronouncements of the verses 3:14 and 100:8 featured in Ch. 41.1.
There can be no debate that din al-Islam is the religion of the followers of the Prophet Muhammad: Islam. However, the Qur’an also uses the generic word Islam, and its different roots, and the word din, with various shades of meaning. Thus the Qur’an uses the word ‘din’ to denote judgment (1:4), divine law (2:193), law (of the land) (12:76), obedience or devotion (39:3), faith, religion, moral responsibility (107:1), religion in the conventional sense (110:2) etc. Based on these Qur’anic illustrations, the term din would appear to embrace the broader notion of obedience (to God) or compliance (with God’s commandments), as against religion in its popular sense.1
The Qur’an uses the word Islam (root – SLM) in noun and verb forms with the connotation of orienting, submitting, surrendering, or committing oneself to God or to be at peace with God.2 The Qur’an further declares:
“Indeed! Whoever commits (Assalama) his whole being [lit., face] to God, and does good deeds - will get his reward from his Lord. There will be no fear upon them nor shall they grieve.” (2:112).
“And who can be better in faith (din) than the one who orients (Assalama) his whole being [Lit., face] to God, and does good deeds, and follows the way of Abraham, the upright one, and God took Abraham as a friend” (4:125).
“And who is finer in speech than the one who invites to God, does good deeds and says: ‘I am of those who submit to God (Muslimun)’” (41:33).
In these verses, the Qur’an attributes the quality of doing good deeds to those who submit, or orient themselves to God (Assalama, Muslim).
Combining the foregoing underlined Qur’anic notions of i) din (primarily as obedience or devotion), and ii) the verb and noun forms of Islam (Assalama, Muslim), din al-Islam may be connoted with a faith system that calls for orienting oneself (asslama) to God for the doing of good deeds, or serving humanity. Accordingly the Qur’an describes ‘din al-Islam’, as the universal faith that was enjoined on earlier prophets, who were all true muslims (2:131-133),3 and conveyed the same essential message.
“When his Lord said to him (Abraham), ‘Submit (aslim)’, he said, ‘I submit (aslamtu) to the Lord of the worlds’ (2:131). Abraham enjoined his sons to do so, as did Jacob: ‘O my sons, God has chosen the religion (din) for you; so you should not die unless you have submitted (muslimun)’ (132). Were you witnesses when death came to Jacob? He said to his sons, ‘What will you serve after I am gone?’ They said, ‘We will serve your God; the God of your fathers, Abraham, Ishmael, and Isaac - the One God; and to Him we have truly submitted (Muslimun)’” (2:133).
As if to leave no ambiguity on the cardinal significance of obedience to God through service to humanity, the Qur’an devotes a whole chapter to it:
“Do you see the one who belies the din (religion) (107:1)?. It is he who rebuffs the orphan (2), and does not encourage feeding the poor (3). So, woe to those prayerful (4), who are heedless of their prayer (5), who aim to be seen (in public) (6), but hold back from helping (others)” (107:7).
Muslims ardently believe in the ‘five pillars’ and are very particular to comply with them, but they are by and large not pro-active in serving humanity as required by their faith.
The foregoing exercise is no window dressing. Many eminent scholars of Islam, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, have acknowledged the pivotal role of service to humanity in Islam, as illustrated by the following quotations:
2. 3:19, 3:52, 3:64, 3:80, 3:83
3. 3:52, 28:52/53.
4. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an, Lahore 1934, reprinted, Maryland 1983, note 550.
5. Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, English translation by Ismail Ragi, 8th edition, Karachi 1989, p. 56.
6. Karen Armstrong, Muhammad, London 1991, p. 97. An early Qur’anic passage (92:17-21) brings across the notion of tazaqqa implicit in the noted quotation.
8. The Broader Notion of Taqwa (Heedfulness)
The word Taqwa and its noun form, Muttaqi, and other root words appear in hundreds of Qur’anic verses with the connotation of heeding God, as well as His guidance. Scholars have translated it varyingly as: fearing God, heeding God, being conscious of God, preserving oneself from evil, guarding against evil, warding off evil, and piety. However, based on the Qur’anic versatile usage (as indicated in this work), its meaning may be best expressed by the opening verse of the second chapter (Surah al-Baqarah):
“This is the Book, in which nothing is doubtful: it has guidance for the heedful (Muttaqin)” (2:2).
In other words, those who follow the guidance of the Qur’an are imbued with Taqwa, or are Muttaqin. (sing. Muttaqi) Thus, heeding God, without heeding His commandments; or heeding the physical book or cassette containing the Qur’anic text or audio-recording, but ignoring, or even defying its guidance, can hardly meet the Qur’anic criteria for Taqwa.
The Qur'an offers a universal connotation of this word in scores of its verses, many of which appear in this work: it is best captured in the verse 49:13 from late Medinite period, which states:
“O People! We have created you as male and female, and made you into races and communities* for you to get to know each other. The noblest among you near God are those of you who are the most heedful (atqakum). Indeed God is All-Knowing and Informed” (49:13). *[Lit., ‘tribes’]
The Qur’an also describes some of the ‘People of the Book’ (Christians and Jews), as Muttaqin (3:113-115).
“They are not the same: among the People of the Book is an upright community: they recite God’s messages through the hours of night as they bow down before Him (3:113). They believe in God and the Last Day; enjoin the good, and forbid the evil and hasten to good deeds - it is they who are among the righteous (114). Any good they do, they will not be denied it as God knows the heedful (Muttaqin)” (3:115).
Thus, in a broad sense, the term Taqwa and its other roots denote heedfulness of one’s universal social, moral and ethical responsibilities, with faith in God and the Last Day.
As the broader Qur’anic message is virtually centred around the concept of Taqwa – as underscored by its lead verse (2:2 above), we have indicated the Qur’anic exhortations to Taqwa in the listed verses in this book by showing its transliteration in bracket alongside the rendition.
In a verse dating from the Medinite period, the Qur'an declares:
“Believers (Mu’minun) form a brotherhood; so reconcile your brethren, (whenever they are at odds,) and heed God, so that you may be graced with Mercy” (49:10).
Muslim scholars often cite this verse to claim a brotherhood of all Muslims, though strictly speaking, this verse is suggestive of the brotherhood of all believers in one God (Mu’minun). However, the Qur’anic universal notion of Islam (root – SLM) and Taqwa as reviewed in the preceding chapters (Ch. 7 and 8) and its pronouncements relating to (i) racial divergence, (ii) religious tolerance, (iii) plurality of faiths and (iv) the divine criteria of judgment, as explored below clearly and conclusively indicate its vision of a brotherhood of entire humanity - who are collectively appointed as God’s deputy on earth (2:30/Ch. 5.1).
The Qur'an recognizes the diversity of human race, language and colour (30:22)1 and declares that if God willed, He would have made humanity into one community (10:19, 11:118),2 guiding them all (6:149).3 It further affirms that humanity was initially one community, but later people differed (10:19).4
“Say (O Muhammad!): ‘With God (lies) clear argument. If He so willed, He would have guided you all’” (6:149).
“Humankind was but one community, but (later) they differed. Had it not been for an earlier decree from your Lord, their differences would have been settled between them” (10:19).
“If your Lord so willed, He would have made humankind into one community – (but He did not will so); so they will not cease to differ” (11:118).
“Among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity in your languages and your colours. There are signs in this for those who know” (30:22).
The Qur’an forbids any compulsion in religion (2:256, 50:45, 88:21/22), and asks the Prophet not to compel people because if God so wished, everyone on earth would have believed (10:99).
“(There is) no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clearly from falsehood; so whoever rejects false deities and believes in God, has grasped a firm handhold, which never breaks. (Remember,) God is All-Knowing and Aware” (2:256).
“If your Lord so willed, everyone on earth would have believed, all together. Will you then compel people until they become believers” (10:99)?
“We know best what they say; but you (O Muhammad,) are not to force them. So remind with the Qur'an those who fear My warning” (50:45).
“So remind (them, O Muhammad) – for you are one who reminds (88:21); and have no power over them” (88:22).
The Qur’an’s position on religious freedom is amply demonstrated in a verse (60:11) dating from the Medinite period allowing pagan women to leave for Mecca, if they did not opt to convert to Islam along with their husbands:
“And if any of your wives should go over to the pagans, and then you have your turn (as many converted wives of the Meccan pagans left their pagan husbands and came over to Medina), then pay to those whose wives had left the equivalent of what they had spent (on their dower). And heed God in Whom you believe” (60:11).
9.3. No Discrimination against Non-Muslims
The Qur’an also commands Muslims not to discriminate against non-Muslims (4:94), nor to insult those whom they invoke besides God (6:108).
“You who believe, whenever you campaign in God's way, be discerning and do not say to anyone who offers you peace: ‘You are not a believer’ - seeking worldly gains (by exploiting him), for there are plenty of gains with God. (Remember,) you were like them before - till God favoured you. Therefore be discerning. Indeed God is Informed of what you do” (4:94).
“Don’t insult those whom they invoke besides God, lest they ignorantly insult God in enmity. Thus We have made their action seem pleasing to every community; then their return is to their Lord, and He will tell them what they had been doing” (6:108).
Towards the concluding phase of the revelation, when Islam was established as an historical reality and the pagans and the native Jews and Christians did not pose any threat the Qur’an expounds its message on the plurality of faith (49:13/Ch. 8.1; 5:48):5
“We have revealed to you this divine Writ (Kitab) setting forth the truth, confirming (whatever) remains of the divine writ (sent earlier), and determining what is true in it. Therefore, judge between them by what God has revealed, and do not follow their whims after what has come to you of truth. For each of you We have made a (different) code (Shir’ah), and an open way (of action) (Minhaj). If God so pleased, He would have made you (all) into one community. Therefore vie (with each other) in goodness (so that) He may test you by what He has given you. (Remember, you) all will (eventually) return to God, and He will tell you in what you differed” (5:48).
This is a critical verse that needs explaining:
i. The Qur’an supplements the word (Shir’ah, or shar‘iah) with Minhaj (an open way), thereby adding a far broader dimension to the combined expression shir‘ah wa minhaj than to the rulings of the regional schools of Islamic law (Shar‘iah laws) of the post Prophetic era (Appendix, 1.4/1.7).
ii. Since by definition, the term Minhaj (open way) incorporates a freedom of choice, a scope to choosing the best way and changing the course of things to meet the exigencies of life, the combined expression Shir‘Ah Wa Minhaj has a dynamic connotation. In other words, the Shar‘iah of Islam enjoins a dynamic system of law, and code of life, that is accommodative of change with space and time - a priori encapsulated in the Qur’anic pronouncements on the need to change for the upliftment of human society (8:53, 13:11/Ch. 2.5)
iii. The Qur’an claims to represent the Shar‘iah of Islam (45:18) revealed to Muhammad as insights for humanity (45:20).
iv. The Qur’an gives basic principles for a way of life individually and collectively (Ch.2.3), but leaves detailed laws for people to evolve to meet the exigencies of their lives according to time, place and needs.
v. While the verse does not spell out the differences in divine law (shir‘ah) and the way of action assigned to the divergent communities, it stresses on the common ground: the divergent communities are reminded to ‘vie (with each other) in goodness’ (2:148/Ch. 16). This, together with its emphasis on good deeds as reviewed below brings across the Qur’anic principle of unity in diversity and its acknowledgment of the plurality of faiths.
The Qur’an repeatedly declares that the divine approval is contingent to doing good deeds with faith, regardless of one’s religion (2:62, 5:69, 22:17).6
“Those who believe, and those who are Jews, and Christians and Sabians - and (in fact) any who believe in God and the Last Day, and do good deeds - shall have their reward with their Lord. There will be no fear upon them, nor shall they grieve” (2:62).
“Those who believe, and those who are Jews, and Sabians and Christians - (in fact) any who believe in God and the Last Day, and do good deeds - there will be no fear upon them, nor shall they grieve” (5:69).
“Those who believe, and those who are Jews, and Sabians and Christians and Magians, and those who associate (others with God) - God will judge between them on the Day of Judgment. Indeed, God is Witness to all things” (22:17).
The Qur’an promises forgiveness to those people who were deprived of any true guidance because of their mental, physical, psychological or social conditions, or because they lived in mortal terror and were totally helpless in life (4:97-99):
“When the angels will take the souls of those who wronged themselves, they will say: ‘How were you?’ They will reply: ‘We were helpless on earth.’ (The angels) will say: ‘Wasn’t God's earth wide enough for you to flee somewhere (for refuge)?’ As for those, the abode will be hell - an evil refuge (4:97); except those among men, women and children, who are helpless, have no means (for any guidance), and are not guided on (the right) way (98). Those God may pardon, for God is Most Forgiving and Pardoning” (4:99).
Pieced together, the foregoing verses and those in the last two chapters bring across the Qur’anic vision of a universal brotherhood of humanity that will allow people of diverse faith, culture, colour and language to live together, to know each other and to assist each other to make life easy and peaceful for all human beings.
Some Muslim scholars, however, advocate that the non-Muslims (in its present day sense), who do not believe in the Prophet Muhammad, will not qualify for God’s mercy. They interpret the generic word Islam (submitting/ orienting oneself to God, Ch. 7) in the verse 3:85 (underlined below), in its popular restrictive sense as the religion of the followers of the Prophet Muhammad. This is misleading as the preceding verses (3:83-84), demonstrate the generic character of the word islam appearing in 3:85.
“Do they seek any (religion) other than the din (religion) of God, to whom all in the heavens and on earth have submitted, willingly or unwillingly, and to whom they will all be returned (3:83)? Say: ‘We believe in God, and in what has been revealed to us, and in what has been revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes, and to Jesus and Moses and (other) prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them; and surely to Him do we all submit (Muslimun)’ (84). If anyone seeks other than Islam as a din (religion), it will not be accepted of him, and in the hereafter he will be among the losers”(3:85).
The foregoing argument also holds for the identically worded verses 9:33 and 61:9 (Note 162/Ch. 3), some scholars quote to claim exclusivity of Islamic faith:
“He is the One who has sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth (Islam - submission to God), that he may distinguish it from all religions, however the pagans detested this” (9:33/61:9).[48:28 is identically worded except for the underlined remarks.]
To leave no doubts about the universality of its message, the Qur’an warns those who take a restrictive view of their faith that their desires will not prevail and that whoever does evil will be requited accordingly.
“Neither your desires, nor the desires of the People of the Book (can prevail): whoever does evil will be requited accordingly, and he will not find any protector or helper besides God” (4:123).
There is a general belief that Islam prescribes capital punishment for apostasy. This is incorrect. The Qur’an does not recommend any temporal punishment for apostasy. It deals with the subject on several occasions, illustrated below, and makes it clear that apostates will be punished after their death (2:217, 16:106).7
“…Their deeds will be of no avail in this life, or in the hereafter; and they will be the inmates of hellfire and they will remain there” (2:217).
“…On them is the wrath from God and theirs will be a dreadful punishment” (16:106).
The Qur’an offers further illustrations against any temporal punishment for apostasy:
It does not prescribe any punishment for a person “who believes, rejects faith and then believes (again), and again rejects faith, and goes on increasing in unbelief.”8
It does not prescribe any punishment for the women who left their Muslim husbands during the Medinite period, and went over to the disbelievers renouncing their faith.9
It assures Muslims that “if anyone abandons his religion, God will replace him with others whom He loves and who love Him.”10
Thus there is no Qur’anic basis to legislate capital punishment, or, for that matter, any punishment for apostasy.
In the historical perspective, apostates joined the enemy and conspired against the Muslims, thus committing high treason; so the punishment for apostasy was in true sense the punishment for treason rather than for abandoning faith.
2. 16:93, 42:8.
4. 2:213, 21:92, 23:52.
6. 4:124/Ch. 2.4, 64:9, 65:11.
7. 3:90, 47:25-27.
10. Universality of Knowledge
Addressed to a largely unlettered people and aimed at bringing about a quantum change in the social order of the world under the ambit of its monotheistic discourse, the Qur’an does not talk abut pursuing universal knowledge in a direct and straightforward way. However, its broader message resonates with exhortations and inspirations to acquiring universal knowledge.
The very first revelation of the Qur’an is a commandment to reading and an affirmation of the intellectual potential of man (96:1-5/Ch. 1.2). With the progress of the revelation the Qur’an declares that: i) man is assigned the role of God’s deputy on earth and endowed with the intellectual faculty to identify and characterize every object individually (2:30-35/Ch. 5.1), ii) granted special ‘favours’ above much of the creation (17:70), iii) fashioned in the finest model (95:4), and iv) whatever is in the heavens and the earth is made serviceable to him (31:20, 45:13).1
“We have indeed honoured the descendants of Adam; carried them across land and sea; provided for them out of the good things; and favoured them above much of what We have created” (17:70).
“Don’t you see that God has made serviceable to you whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on earth, and has lavished His bounties on you (both) seen and unseen? Yet (there are) among people (those) who dispute about God without knowledge, without guidance and without an enlightening book” (31:20).
“God is the One who has made the sea serviceable to you and the ships sail on it by His command, that you may seek of His bounty, and that you may be grateful (45:12). He has made serviceable to you whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on earth - all (come from) Him. There are signs in this for a people who reflect” (45:13).
“Indeed, We have created humankind in the finest model” (95:4).
Furthermore, the Qur’an makes repeated references to a people: ‘who use their reason, ‘who reflect’, ‘who know’, and ‘who are prudent,’ describes wisdom (Hikmat) as a great bounty (2:269), and promises to raise the ranks of those who are given knowledge (‘ilm) (58:11).
“He gives wisdom to anyone He wishes, and he who is granted wisdom has indeed received a great bounty (Khayran Kathirah); yet none is mindful of this, except the prudent” (2:269).
“…God will raise by degrees those of you who believe, and those who acquire knowledge (‘Ilm)…” (58:11).
Last but not least, the Qur’an asserts that God verifies the truth of His Words.2 And since the multifarious manifestations of nature are nothing but the reflections of the Words or Kalimat of God (18:109, 31:27/Ch. 2.1), Qur’anic assertion points to the principle of experimentation and verification that underlies all scientific advancement.
Taken together, these Qur’anic pronouncements constitute a clear and emphatic exhortation to pursue universal knowledge in all its dimensions and directions. Accordingly, the early Muslims made remarkable advancements in practically all the prevalent fields of knowledge: medicine, astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, metallurgy, and geography, for example. They also acted as the transmitters of ancient Greek knowledge and Hellenistic sciences into the medieval Europe by translating these works into Arabic, which were later translated into European languages. Thus, in true sense, the early Muslims set the stage for the Renaissance in Europe, as most historians and scholars, including those, skeptic of the Prophetic mission, have acknowledged.3, 4
By the fifth or sixth century of Islam, the intellectual enterprise of the Muslims came to a virtual halt. The theologians had remained suspect of universal knowledge as it challenged many of their views and interpretations that were rooted in the pre-Islamic myths or faiths. They also popularized the juristic doctrine of taqlid (Precedence, App. 1.6) into a simplistic notion that all that had to be learnt had already been learnt during the Prophet’s time, and was contained in the Qur’an and the Prophet’s normative ways (Sunnah), and the posterity was expected to simply imitate them.5 This resulted in stagnancy of knowledge, abhorrence against any scientific advancement, and division of universal knowledge into Islamic and European categories.6 Thus, in the post Renaissance era, the Muslims persistently refused to acquire the so-called ‘European’ knowledge, and watched the phenomenal advancement of science and technology with silent skepticism. In fact, as reviewed by Murad Hofmann,7 the hostility of the orthodox theologians (‘ulama) against the so called European knowledge, led them to, among others, burn down an observatory in Turkey in 1580 - just a year after its erection, and close down the first printing press in the Islamic world, in the same city in 1745. Even as recently as the later part of the nineteenth century, the ‘ulama in British India fought tooth and nail against the establishment of a modern university by Syed Ahmed. Ironically, to this day Muslims are bogged down with a religious education curriculum that often treats universal sciences in the sidelines.
Scientific knowledge is the very key to understanding the Qur’anic wisdom, let alone harnessing the resources of nature as enjoined by the Qur’an. Thus for example, we will not be able to understand many of the Qur’anic verses on natural phenomena, such as relating to the movement of the heavenly bodies, embryonic development in human fetus, darkness in the depths of oceans, barrier between sweet and saline water etc. as reviewed earlier (Ch. 4.8) without the knowledge of physical sciences. Therefore, from the Qur’anic perspective, the pursuit of scientific knowledge is integral to its message, and to set them apart as ‘European or ‘un-Islamic’ could amount to a blatant distortion of its message.
It is therefore high time that the Muslim ‘ulama abolish any division of universal knowledge that may still be in force in their religious institutions (madrassas), and incorporate the study of physical sciences and other universal faculties in the curriculum of the madrassas. Muslims must recognize that God alone is the fountainhead of all knowledge, and must heed that dividing the domain of knowledge between Godly and un-godly could be tantamount to ascribing partners to God – though God knows best.
1. 14:32, 16:12, 67:15.
2. The Qur’anic expression: yuhiqqul haqqa bi kalimatihi: 8:7, 10:82*, 42:24. *[allahu also appears in this verse: yuhiqqullahu haqqa...]
3. “Islam, which is only half a dozen centuries younger than Christianity, created a long and brilliant civilization, which is responsible for much of the way we are today. … When a few medieval monks were desperately trying to preserve what little they knew of Greco-Roman civilization, academies and universities flourished in the splendid cities of the Muslim lands”– Jonathan Bloom and Sheila Blair, Islam, Empire of Faith, BBC Series, UK 2001, p. 11.
4. “Science is the most momentous contribution of Arab [Muslim] civilization to the modern world; but its fruits were slow in ripening. Not until long after Moorish [Islamic] culture had sunk back into darkness did the giant to which it had given birth rise to its might. – Robert Briffault (1867-1948), Making of Humanity, p. 202, [Extracted from Muhammad Iqbal’s Reconstruction of Islamic thoughts, 6th reprint, New Delhi1998, p. 130.]
5. Abul Kalam Azad, Tarjuman al-Qur’an, 1931; reprint New Delhi 1989, Vol.1. p. 42,43.
6. Jamal Afghani, extracted from John L.Esposito’s, Islam in Transition, New York 1982, p. 18.
7. Murad Hofmann, Islam the Alternative, UK 1993, p. 37.
The word jihad (root, JHD) and its other derivatives are used in the Qur’an with a varying shade of meaning, which can be best understood by reflecting over the theme of the verses bearing JHD root words. Such an exercise, attempted below, bears out the following Qur’anic notion of jihad:
On a personal level, jihad is a struggle to face the hardships and challenges of life with patience and determination, or to constantly endeavour to accomplish a lawful goal.
On a community level, it is an ongoing struggle to overcome the social, moral, material, intellectual and spiritual deprivations of the time.
During the Meccan period when the Muslims were small in number, and in no position to defend themselves, the Qur’an connotes the root JHD with a ‘peaceful struggle’ (25:52, 29:6, 29:69), as well as ‘putting moral pressure’ - such as, parents putting ‘pressure’ on their children (29:8, 31:15).
“Then do not obey the disbelievers, and wage against them (jahidhum) an intense struggle (jihadn kabir) with it [the Qur’an]” (25:52).
“Anyone who struggles (jahada), struggles (yujahidu) only for himself, for God is above any need of all Beings” (29:6).
“We have enjoined on humanity kindness to parents, but if they press (jahada) you to associate with Me that, of which you have no knowledge - do not obey them (in religion). (Remember,) you will (eventually) return to Me, and I will tell you what you did” (29:8).
“We will guide in Our paths those who strive (jahadu) for Us. Indeed God is with the compassionate ” (29:69).
“If they press (jahada) you to associate with Me that of which you have no knowledge, do not listen to them (in religion)…” (31:15). (Full text in Ch. 17.4)
In the Medinite period when the Muslims formed a growing community, the Qur’an commands the Prophet’s followers to struggle with their wealth and their lives (8:72, 49:15, 61:11). This was suggestive of a call to take up arms, and predictably, the affluent among the Prophet’s followers preferred to stay back (9:86).
“(As for) those who have believed, and have migrated and struggled (jahadu) with their wealth and their lives in God’s way, as well as those who sheltered and helped them – it is they who are the protectors of each other...” (8:72).
“When a Sura is revealed, (saying:) ‘Believe in God, and struggle (jahidu) with His Messenger,’ the affluent among them ask (exemption of) you (O Muhammad,) and say: ‘Let us (stay) with those who sit (back at home)’” (9:86).
“Only those are believers, who believe in God and His Messenger; then they do not doubt, and struggle (jahadu) in God's way with their wealth and their lives – it is they who are truthful” (49:15).
“You who believe, shall I lead you to a bargain that will save you from a severe punishment (61:10): that you believe in God and His Messenger, and struggle (tujahidu) in God's way with your wealth and your lives; this will be good for you if you only knew” (61:11).
The community also continued its struggle (22:78), at times through physical labor, which was deemed lowly and undignified (9:79); and as the community grew, a bigger jihad was undertaken in God’s way (2:218, 5:35).
“(As for) those who believe, and those who have migrated and struggled (jahadu) in God’s way – it is they (who may) hope for God’s Mercy, for (indeed) God is Most Forgiving and Merciful” (2:218).
“You who believe, heed God, seek the means towards Him, and struggle (jahidu) in His way, that you may succeed” (5:35).
“Those [Hypocrites] who find fault with the believers that give charity voluntarily and with those who find nothing but their (physical) labor (juhdahum), and deride them - God will (return) them with derision, and there is a severe punishment for them” (9:79).
“Strive (jahidu) in God's (way) - a striving (jihad) due to Him. He has chosen you (to convey His message)…” (22:78). (Full text in Ch. 42.3)
To demonstrate the broader concept of jihad, the Prophet is reported to have told his followers after returning from a military campaign: “This day we have returned from a minor jihad to a major jihad,” and added that “by this he meant returning from an armed battle to the peaceful battle for self-control and betterment,” that is intellectual and spiritual regeneration and the eradication of social and moral vices.
The Qur’an was revealed at a time when the universal notions of liberty, justice and rights were yet to evolve. The rulers, feudal lords, tribal chiefs, and priests exercised unlimited power over common people, women were oppressed and had no legal rights,1 while slaves formed an integral part of human society – to cite some of the major vices of the era. Islam stripped the ruling class of its power, empowered the oppressed class and eradicated the major vices of the society, and it achieved all this under the ambit of the greater jihad. Thus the early Islamic societies stood out as models of justice, equity, compassion, tolerance and enlightenment; and this gravitated people of different faiths to its fold and led to the gradual spread of Islam and flowering of Islamic civilization. Since this raises the question what happened to the notion of the greater jihad, we would like to shed some light on it.
The Qur’anic precepts were in direct conflict with the established norms of the era. In modern parlor, they were ultra-radical. Therefore, as often happens with such movements, reactionary elements became active soon after the Prophet’s death (632). Within the next thirty years, the elective Caliphate was replaced by a dynastic rule (662). The dynastic rulers (Umayyads, 663-750, Abbasids, 750-1258) introduced old feudalistic values and set aside the Qur’anic dictates on social reform leading to gradual social and moral degeneration. The process of degeneration gained momentum with the transfer of power into the hands of the Tatars (13th century).2 They “misinterpreted the Islamic doctrine of divine decree so as to frustrate human will and to choke every striving for action… principles which directly contradicted their religion and ran counter to its precepts, became the rule of the day, and were accepted without hesitation.”3 This, with time, led to the erosion of the spirit of the greater jihad, and reduced the faith of Islam to “the Islamic ritual of prayer, fasting and pilgrimage, as well as some sayings, which have been, however, perverted by allegorical interpretations.”4
This virtually brings us up-to-date on the status of the greater jihad in Islam.
1. Roman law treated women as the possession of their husbands who, under extreme circumstances, exercised the right of life and death over them.
2. Over a period of some forty years (1220-1258), the Mongol hordes fanned out westwards from Mongolia, and completely destroyed the various domains of Islamic civilization that had flourished in the eastern regions of the Islamic Caliphate, across the central planes of Asia. After the surrender of Baghdad, the capital of the Caliphate, to Halagu Khan (1258), the Mongols virtually occupied the conquered Islamic lands. However, before long they embraced Islam and became known as Tatars. The faith won with peace what its soldiers had lost in war.
3. Quotation from Muhammad Abduh, extracted from Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, English translation by Ismail Ragi, 8th edition, Karachi 1989, p. 584
4. Ibid., Quotation from Muhammad Abduh, p. 585.
The Qur’an illustrates a model of non-violence in its last revealed Sura, al-Maidah in the following passage:
“Tell them with truth the story of the two sons of Adam: they offered a sacrifice; it was accepted from one of them and not accepted from the other, who said (to his brother): ‘I will surely kill you.’ (The brother) replied: ‘God accepts (offering) only from the heedful (muttaqin) (5:27), and even if you stretch out your hand against me to kill me, I shall not stretch out my hand against you to kill you for I fear God, the Lord of the Worlds (28). I would rather you bring upon yourself my sin as well as your own sin and become an inmate of hellfire, and that is the reward of the oppressors’ (29). The (selfish) soul of the other prompted him to kill his brother: he murdered him, and found himself among the losers” (5:30).
The Qur’an concludes its foregoing story with the following moral:
“For that reason We decreed for the Children of Israel that whoever kills any person - unless it be (in punishment for) murder or causing corruption on earth - it shall be, as if he had killed all humanity, and whoso saves a life, it shall be, as if he had saved the life of all humanity…” (5:32).
As suggested in the underlined exception clause of the foregoing verse (5:32), the Qur’an recognizes the need for defending oneself against persecution. Thus one of the passages from the late Mecca period declares:
“The requital (jaza’) for an affliction is a similar affliction, yet one who forgives and reconciles, his reward is with God for God does not love the oppressors (42:40). And whoever defends himself after being oppressed – it is they who are in no way (to blame) (41). The way (to blame) is only against those who oppress people and wreak terror (yabghyuna) on earth - it is they who (await) a grievous punishment (42). Yet anyone who is patient and forgives - it is they (who show) determination (in handling) matters” (42:43).
“And if you take your turn (to punish), then return with what you were made to bear; but if you are patient, it will certainly be best for those who are patient (16:126). So be patient, and your patience is only through God, and do not grieve over them, nor feel depressed by their plots” (16:127).
During the 12-year span of the Meccan period (610-622) the Qur’an repeatedly asked the Prophet and his followers to endure oppression in a non-violent manner. But this proved to be of no avail, and eventually the Prophet and his followers had to abandon their home and exile themselves to Medina to avoid persecution (622). It was around this time – the first year of the Medinite period (623) that the Qur’an gives them permission to fight:
“Permission (to fight) is given to those who have been wronged and God is indeed Able to grant them victory (22:39): those who have been driven from their homelands unlawfully – only because they say: ‘Our Lord is God!’ Had God not driven people, some (communities) by others – monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques in which God's name is regularly proclaimed, would have been demolished.(Remember,) God helps those who help His (cause). Indeed God is Powerful, Almighty” (22:40).1
As the upcoming Muslim community in Medina came under repeated attacks from its powerful enemies, the Qur’an tutored it to fight the invaders. Thus in the valley of Badr, when a motley crowd of the Prophet’s followers faced a powerful Quraysh army (624), the revelation prepares, encourages, reassures and inspires the Muslims to fight (Notes 48, 50, 53, 67/Ch. 3). In the immediate aftermath of Badr, when the Quraysh were preparing to attack Medina to avenge their defeat, the Qur’an declares:
“Say to those (O Muhammad,) who deny (the revelation) that if they desist (from attacking you), their past (violence) will be forgiven; but if they revert (to hostility), the example of the ancient people is already set (for them to take warning) (8:38). Fight them until there is no more persecution, and the religion (din) of God is fully established; but if they desist (from fighting), surely God will be Observant of what they do” (8:39).
The ensuing period saw the Mednite Muslims fighting against powerful armies at Uhd (625) and Trench (627). Later, at Hudaybiyah (628), an unarmed company of pilgrims, comprising practically the entire adult Muslim population at that time, risked annihilation at the hands of a mighty Quraysh army camping nearby. Each of these events found the Muslims in precarious condition, from moment to moment, and for days, and sometimes months together, as their enemies were overwhelmingly powerful, militarily poised to wipe them out. The revelation therefore gives them clear instructions to fight, even if it was to be in the traditionally sacred months or in the sacred precincts of Mecca, but urges them to keep within limits (2:190), and to cease fighting when there was no more persecution, and the din of God was established, or when their enemy desisted from fighting (2:193).
“Fight in God’s way those who fought against you, but do not exceed limits. Surely God does not love those who exceed limits (2:190). Kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from where they drove you out - for persecution is worse than slaughter; but do not fight them in the precincts of the Sacred Mosque until they (come to) fight you in it. But if they do fight you, kill them: this is the recompense for the disbelievers (191). But if they desist (remember,) God is Most Forgiving and Merciful (192); and fight them until there is no more persecution, and the religion (din) of God is established - but if they desist, let there be no hostility except with the oppressors” (2:193).
Imbued with the virtues of mercy and kindness enjoined by the Qur’an, some among the Prophet’s followers disliked fighting. The Qur'an warns them that their judgment might be fallacious (2:216), and argues that while fighting was bad, religious persecution and forcing people into exile was even worse (2:217, 4:75).
“Fighting is prescribed for you though it may be abhorrent to you. But you may dislike a thing, which is good for you, while you may like something, which is bad for you. (Remember,) God Knows (what is good and what is bad for you), but you do not know (2:216). They ask you (O Muhammad,) about fighting in the sacred month. Say: ‘Fighting in it is a grave (offence), but graver still before God is to obstruct God's way, to deny Him, and (to deny access to) the Sacred Mosque and drive away its people - for persecution is worse than slaughter.’ They will never cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith, if they could just do so. And if any of you do turn back from your faith and die in disbelief, their deeds will be of no avail in this life or in the hereafter, and they will be inmates of hellfire and they will remain there” (2:217).
“And why should you not fight in the cause of God and of the weak (and oppressed) – men, women, and children, whose cry is: ‘Our Lord, rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and provide us a protector from You; and provide us a helper from You” (4:75).
It is clear from the foregoing Qur’anic illustrations that the Qur’an justified fighting on three major grounds: defence of faith, persecution and exile.
12.6. The Ultimate Goal Is Peaceful Coexistence
The Qur’an fully clarifies itself in a passage dating from the late Medinite period that asks the Muslims to be just and virtuous to those who did not fight against them over religion, nor expelled them from their homelands (60:8), and reminds them that their enemies could eventually turn their friends (60:7), thus predicting the eventual friendship of the Medinite Muslim community with their Meccan foes. The revelation also clarifies that it forbade the Muslims to befriend only those who fought against them over religion, and expelled them from their homelands and helped (others) in their expulsion (60:9).
“It may be that God will bring about love between you and those of them you (now) regard as your enemies. (Remember,) God is Able (to do anything) and God is Most Forgiving and Merciful (60:7). God does not forbid you to be virtuous (tabarru) and just to those who did not fight you over religion, nor drove you from your homelands. Indeed, God loves the just (8). God only forbids you to befriend those who fought against you over religion, and expelled you from your homelands, and backed (others) in your expulsion; and whoever befriends them – it is they who are unjust” (60:9).
The opening injunction of this passage is a general reminder to all warring factions for all times of the prospect of an eventual reconciliation. The Qur’an therefore cannot approve of any chemical, biological, or atomic warfare because their injurious effects can outlast the war, and only intensify the enmity even after peace has been restored. Likewise, destruction of civil amenities, and planting of mines and booby traps or any form of explosives that threaten the life of ordinary citizens after the end of hostilities is not permitted by the Qur’an.
All Qur’anic verses relating to fighting came during the Medinite period, when the Muslims had formed an integrated community under the unified leadership of the Prophet, and were in a position to defending themselves in an organized and politically responsible manner. This was different from responding violently against injustice in an individual capacity or a fragmented manner. The Qur’anic Meccan period exhortations on jihad (Ch. 11.2) are also not supportive of any recourse to violence in an individual or splintered manner, when faced with corporate oppression. Accordingly, one of its verses describes goodness (non-violence) as a means to win the heart of the oppressors:
“Goodness (Hasanat) and evil (sayy’iat)* are not equal. Therefore, return the latter with that which is good, and then the one between you and whom there was enmity will indeed become your close friend (41:34). None is granted this except those who are patient; and none is granted this except the very fortunate” (41:35). *[The word has a broad shade of meaning - from minor lapses to abominable deeds.]
Moreover, the Qur’an does not furnish any example of a prophet raising arms against his opponents, or inciting his people into violence: one after another, the prophets are shown to have sworn to endure the injustices of their people until God made the truth manifest.
In sum, the Qur’anic message enjoins a peaceful and non-violent approach in the face of corporate oppression. It however allows politically responsible warfare under a duly vested authority on three grounds as mentioned above: i) for religious freedom and against ii) persecution and iii) forced exile. However, Islamic jurists have interpreted the Qur’anic message on resisting persecution to justifying violent rebellion, if persecution is unbearable, unrelenting, unending and endemic.
Given the historical dimension of the Qur’anic references to fighting, reading a verse in isolation and out of context can be misleading and dangerous. Thus, for example, verse 9:5 reads:
“But when the sacred months are past, kill the pagans wherever you find them, and capture them, surround them, and watch for them in every lookout; but if they repent and establish regular prayer and give charity, then let them go their way, for God is Most Forgiving and Merciful” (9:5).
Read out of context, this is a call to take up arms against all pagans until they embraced faith. However, the very next verse states:
“If anyone of the pagans seeks your protection* (O Muhammad), grant him protection, so that he may hear the words of God; and then deliver him to a place, safe for him. That is because they are a people without knowledge” (9:6) *[Lit., ‘seeks to become your neighbour.’]
Together 9:5/6 clarify that these verses relate to an ongoing state of war between the Muslims and the pagans, and that the instruction in 9:5 was in relation to those pagan Arabs (the Quraysh) who mounted an aggression against the Muslims, and was not meant for those who sought peace. The people who sought peace were to be given protection, and were not to be coerced to embrace Islam, as clearly explained by Muhammad Asad on the strength of al-Razi.2
One of the verses of Surah al-Tawbah declares:
“Fight those from among the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) who do not have faith in God, nor in the Last Day, and do not consider forbidden what God and His messenger have forbidden, and do not acknowledge the religion of truth - until they pay tribute (Jizyah) willingly as subjects” (9:29).
This is the only verse in the Qur’an, which gives an unqualified instruction to fight (qatilu) the People of the Book (Christians and Jews). Its directive, however, must be comprehended in the historical context of the revelation: the verse was revealed in the course of Tabuk expedition and enabled the Prophet to form peace alliances with the Christian and Jewish settlements of the southern regions of Byzantium without any military engagement - as noted earlier (Ch. 3.12). The question arises: does the verse constitute a Qur’anic injunction for all times? The Qur’an has the answer.
The inclusion of the Prophet in the verse lends it an existential character. If perpetual warfare was intended, fighting (qatala) might have been a compulsory duty for all Muslims for all times. But neither the Prophet, nor his immediate successors imposed any such condition on the community. Thus, from early decades of Islam, the Muslim soldiers were paid for their services. Hence, the Qur’anic foregoing instruction to fight against the People of the Book must be context specific, and cannot therefore be regarded as a Qur’anic injunction for perpetual warfare.
The Qur’an refers to the term Jizyah only in the foregoing verse (9:29). It uses the root JZY across its text with the connotation of a reward for good deeds, or a just recompense for something good or evil.3 As recorded in the traditions, jizyah was used as an exemption tax, which all able bodied non-Muslims were required to pay for their exemption from military services. Accordingly, women, under age and old men, sick or crippled men, and monks and priests were exempt from this tax. Those non-Muslims who volunteered military services were also exempt.4 This apart, jizyah also served as a balancing tax - as a partial substitute for the Zakat that Muslims were required to pay towards public funds. Thus, in effect, jizyah was a combination of welfare levy, and exemption tax. Through the medieval ages, the Western scholarship has ignored this social and political equation and presented jizyah as somewhat of a punitive tax on a vanquished community. However, historical facts dating from early decades of Islam demonstrate that the vanquished communities were indeed happy to pay the jizyah, as it gave them such protection and security, as they had never seen before.5 The concept of jizyah was however abused with the forging of a document in the fifth century of Islam, and many vanquished Christians communities were subjected to whole range of restrictions.6 But that is history, the course of which is set by political ambitions, clash of interest, and power equations. This summary focuses at the Qur’anic notion of jizyah as illustrated by the Qur’an and applied in the early years of Islam, and therefore historical developments and distortions are excluded.
2. Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Chap. 9, Note 11.
3. Illustration on the Qur’anic use of the root JZY:
Jaza’ (32:17, 34:37, 39:34), yajzi (24:38, 30:45), yujzo (25:75), najzi (29:7): a reward for good deeds
Yujza (6:160) : a recompense or a just award
tujza (92:19): a reward in return for a favor
jaza’ (4:93, 42:40), yujza (40:40), yujzo (6:120): a recompense for an evil deed
4. Thomas W. Arnold, Preaching of Islam, 2nd revised edition 1913, reprinted Delhi 1990, p. 61.
5. Here are some historical glimpses extracted from the works of Philip K. Hitti, and Thomas Arnold.
i. The terms of surrender of Jerusalem and Damascus to Khalid Ibn al-Walid and Caliph Umar demonstrate that jizyah was collected in lieu of security of life, property, and the churches of the dhimmis(people of other faiths under covenant of protection), and for the protection of their city walls against any aggressor. The principle was so noble, and its application was so honest, that many Christian settlements looked forward to their integration with the Islamic state. - Philip K.Hitti, History of the Arabs, 1937, 10th edition, London 1993, p. 152.
ii. In the face of an imminent aggression from Emperor Heraclius, Caliph Umar’s General, Abu Ubaidah issued a proclamation to returning the money (jizyah) that was collected from the Christian subjects of the conquered cities of Syria, fearing his inability to protect them. The order was put into effect and enormous sums were paid back to the people out of the state treasury, so much so that the Christians called down blessings upon the Muslims, saying: “May God give you rule over us again, and make you victorious over the Romans; had it been they, they would not have given us back anything, but would have taken all that remained with us.”- Thomas W. Arnold, Preaching of Islam, 2nd revised edition, 1913, reprinted Delhi 1990, p. 61.
6. Thomas W. Arnold, Preaching of Islam, 2nd revised edition, 1913, reprinted Delhi 1990, p. 56-58.
13. The Qur’an and The People Of The Book
The Christians and Jews had remained sympathetic to the Prophet through his early years in Medina as he claimed to be preaching the true faith of their prophets and posed no political threat to either of them. So the revelation had no complaints against them. However, as he emerged the civil and political head of Medina and changed the direction of prayer1 from Jerusalem to the Ka‘ba signalling a separate religious identity of his followers, the Jews grew hostile to him and conspired against him with his Meccan foes. The tone of the Qur’an also changed (Ch. 3.6). However, the verses revealed in the concluding phase of the Qur’an are of utmost significance, as they were not specific to any context and represented the culmination of the Qur’anic message. It is therefore important to note that a passage (5:44-47) from the last revealed chapter (Surah al-Maidah) refers to the Torah and the Gospel as revealed scriptures, and thus acknowledges the Jews and Christians as people of faith. However, the Qur’an asks them not to twist the message sent down to them, and to be guided by them.
“Indeed We have revealed the Torah (to Moses) with guidance and Light in it. The prophets who submitted themselves (to God), judged thereby those who were Jewish, and (so did) the rabbis and scholars, who were entrusted with the preservation of God’s Book of which they were witnesses. So do not fear people but fear Me; and do not sell My messages for a petty price. (Remember,) those who do not judge by what God has revealed – it is they who are the deniers (of God) (5:44). We prescribed in it for them, a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and wounds like for like. But whoever (forgives as a gesture of) charity, this is the expiation for him. (Remember,) those who do not judge by what God has revealed – it is they who are unjust” (5:45).
“We caused Jesus, the Son of Mary, to follow in their footsteps confirming what was there before him of the Torah, and We gave him the Gospel with guidance and Light in it, confirming what was there before him of the Torah, and as a guidance and a lesson for the heedful (muttaqin) (5:46). Let the people of the Gospel judge by what God has revealed in it. (Remember,) those who do not judge by what God has revealed, it is they who are perverse” (5:47).
The Qur’an acknowledges that some among the People of Book are righteous and heedful (muttaqin) (3:113-115/Ch. 8.1), attests the honesty and integrity of others (3:75, 3:199) and describes them as a moderate people (5:66).
“Among the People of the Book is one, that if you entrusted him with a fortune, he would return it to you, while there is among them (yet) another, that if you entrusted him with a tiny gold coin, he would not return it to you unless you constantly chased him. This is because they say: ‘It is not our way to (deal with) these unlettered folks.’ They are telling a lie against God while they realize it” (3:75).
“There are among the People of the Book those who believe in God, and in the revelation sent to you (O Muhammad,) and in the revelation sent to them. They fear God, and do not sell God's messages for a petty price: it is they who have their reward with their Lord. Indeed God is Swift in reckoning” (3:199).
“If only the People of the Book had believed and heeded (Our message), We would have erased their evils from them and admitted them to gardens of bliss (5:65). If they had only upheld the Torah, and the Gospel, and whatever was revealed to them, they would have availed of all the blessings of life*. There is a community of moderates among them, but vile indeed is what most of them do” (5:66). [Lit., ‘from above them and below them.’]
The Qur’an calls upon Muslims to debate with the People of the Book in the most beautiful and logical manner (16:125, 29:46), except with those of them who oppress others (29:46).
“Invite (all) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and pleasant counselling, and debate with them in the best manner. Indeed God knows best who is straying from His path, and He knows best the (rightly) guided” (16:125).
“And do not debate with the People of the Book, but in a way that is better (than theirs), except with those of them who oppress (others); and say ‘We believe in what was revealed to us, and what was revealed to you, for our God and your God is One (and the same), and it is to Him that we (all) submit (Muslimun)’” (29:46).
The Qur’an however censures the Christians and Jews for giving too much authority to the clergy (9:31), and for their claims to exclusivity (2:111, 2:135).
“They say: ‘None shall enter the garden, unless he is a Jew or a Christian.’ These are their desires. Say: ‘Bring your proofs, if indeed you are truthful’” (2:111).
“They say: ‘Be Jews, or Christians and you will be (rightly) guided.’ You say: ‘Nay, (we belong to) the creed of Abraham, the *true (believer in One God), and he was not among those who associate (others with God)’” (2:135). [Lit., ‘who turned away from all false notions about God’.]
“They take their priests and their monks for lords instead of God, as well as Christ, the Son of Mary, though they were commanded to serve none, but One God. (Indeed), there is no god but He - unparalleled is He in Glory beyond all that they associate with Him” (9:31).
In the immediate context of the revelation, the Qur’an cautions the Muslims that the People of the book would never be happy with them, unless they followed their religion (2:120). Accordingly, it refrains them from allying with those of the People of the Book and disbelievers who ridiculed their religion (5:51, 5:57); and reminds them that their real allies were no other than God and the Prophet, and the fellow believers (5:55).
“Neither the Jews, nor the Christians will be satisfied with you (O Muhammad,) unless you follow their creed. Say: ‘Indeed, the guidance from God is (true) guidance’, and if you were to follow their whims, after what has reached you of the knowledge, you will not have any protector or helper against God” (2:120).
“You who believe, do not take the Jews and Christians for your allies (awliya’)*: they are but the allies (Auliya’)* of one another, and any of you who allies with them, becomes, one of them. Indeed God does not guide the unjust people” (5:51). *[The word is the plural form of wali, which is also rendered elsewhere as ‘protector’, ‘friend’ as fitting the text.]
“Your only ally (Wali) is God, and His Messenger, and those who believe: those who keep up prayer, and give charity, and bow down (in prayer) (5:55). Therefore, whoso allies with God and His Messenger and (with) those who believe, (belong to) the party of God, and will be victorious (56). (Therefore) you who believe, do not take as your allies those, who take your religion for a joke and a sport, be they among those whom the Book was revealed before you, or among the disbelievers; but heed God, if you are (truly) faithful (57). When you call to prayer, they take it as mockery and amusement. This is because, they are a people who do not use their reason” (5:58).
The verses 5:51, 5:55/56 above are often cited in isolation and out of historical context to imply that for all times, the Muslims should not take the Jews and Christians as their friends or allies. But the Qur’anic pronouncements under 13.2/3 above and its broader message on universal brotherhood of humanity (Ch. 9) rule out any such notion. Moreover, the Qur’an offers further illustrations to leave no ambiguity on this matter.
Thus, any generalization of the noted Qur’anic verses to foment hatred against contemporary Christians and Jews will be tantamount to distorting the message of the Qur’an. To the critic however, this may sound apologetic, as it contradicts the ground reality of the present day Muslim world, where anti-Semitic sentiments run high. It may therefore be useful to clarify this by drawing on modern secular scholarship. Thus to quote Karen Armstrong:2
“Anti-Semitism is a Christian vice. Hatred of the Jews became marked in the Muslim world after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. It is significant that Muslims were compelled to import anti-Jewish myths from Europe and translate into Arabic such virulently anti-Semitic texts as the Protocols of the elders of Zion, because they had no such tradition of their own. Because of this new hostility towards the Jewish people, some Muslims now quote the passages in the Qur’an that refer to Muhammad’s struggle with the three rebellious Jewish tribes to justify their prejudice. By taking these verses out of context, they have distorted both the message of the Qur’an and the attitude of the Prophet, who himself felt no such hatred of Judaism.”
1. 2:143, [Note 98/Ch.3.]
2. Karen Armstrong, Islam, A short history, New York, 2002, p. 21/22.
Since the Qur’an calls for orienting oneself to God (Ch. 7), true faith and intent are very important for earning God’s approval for all our acts and deeds. Accordingly, the Qur’an repeatedly asserts that only God knows who all are rightly guided (16:125/Ch. 13.3; 6:117, 17:84).1
“Indeed your Lord knows best who is straying from His path, and He knows best the rightly guided” (6:117). [The underlined statement is repeated in the verses 28:56, 28:85 and 68:7.]
“Say, ‘Everyone acts according to what suits him, but God knows best who is guided on the (right) path’” (17:84).
Many so-called ‘spiritual guides’ claim spiritual supremacy over fellow Muslims by citing the verse 42:23 (Note 131/Ch. 3.10). This verse dating from the Meccan period has a very clear message: the Prophet is asking his close friends and relatives (Qurba) from among his hostile audience, to extend him the love and respect that he expected from them:
“…I do not ask you any payment for this except love from (fi) the relatives (al-Qurba)…”
However, if the particle fi is rendered as ‘to’, instead of ‘from’ the verse can be read as a call to all Muslims to show love and respect ‘to’ the Prophet’s relatives and descendents. While technically, such a rendering may not be wrong, the Qur’an does not offer any illustration to support any claim to exclusivity or spiritual supremacy by the Prophet’s descendents. In fact, the Qur’an’s clear illustrations rule out any such notion:
i. Over a score of Qur’anic verses tell us that neither the Prophet Muhammad, nor any other prophet expected any payment or special favour from their people for themselves or their descendents.
ii. Some verses state this in the affirmative:2 “…I do not ask of you any payment…”; “...You do not ask them for any payment (Ajara)…”.
iii. Others put this in the interrogative: “Do you (O Prophet) ask them for a payment (Ajara)...?” 3 “Do you (O Prophet) ask them for a recompense (Kharaja) …?”4
iv. Not a single verse in the Qur’an is suggestive of a prophet asking for a payment or a special favour from his people for himself or his descendents.
v. There are verses5 affirming that the Prophets Noah, Hud, Salih, Lot, Shu‘ayb did not expect any payment or special favour from their people for themselves or their descendents.
vi. Through scores of verses (Ch. 16), the Qur’an makes it absolutely clear that every soul, whether male or female will be judged by God on the basis of faith, and deeds.
vii. The Qur’an further declares that no one can intercede with God, except as He Wills.6 This spirit is also reflected in God’s disapproval of Prophet Noah’s prayer for the forgiveness of his pagan son.7
From all these illustrations, it is absolutely clear that there is no Qur’anic basis to extending any special favor or according any spiritual superiority to an individual just because he or she is, or claims to be, a descendent of the Prophet, and that there is absolutely no Qur’anic basis for anyone, no matter his line of descent from the Prophet, to claim intercession with God on anyone’s behalf as a spiritual guide.
“Certainly, you have in God’s Messenger, an excellent model (Uswatun Hasanah) for anyone who looks forward (with hope and fear) to God and the Last Day, and remembers God a lot” (33:21).
Most commentators agree that the verse relates to the noble principles and exemplary moral conduct and behaviour of the Prophet that distinguished him from the rest of his community (Ch. 3.16). The question that keeps the Muslim community divided is, how best they can follow the Prophet’s example.
Traditionally orthodoxy has insisted on imitating the Prophet’s physical habits and pursuits including his daily rituals, such as: washing and bathing, brushing of teeth, clipping of nails, grooming of beard and hair, manners of eating, drinking, sitting, wearing of clothes and turban etc. as recorded in the traditions (Hadith literature).
The Qur’an however makes it absolutely clear that the Prophet’s mission was to convey God’s message1 with clarity;2 and to deliver humanity out of darkness into Light.3 The Qur’an has also been unequivocal about its own singular role as guidance for the believers in God,4 the compassionate,5 the heedful (Muttaqi),6 and for humanity at large.7 Furthermore, the Qur’an has projected the Prophet as a mortal human being like others, though inspired with the revelation.8 Therefore, as the majority of Muslim scholars advocate, Muslims ought to take guidance from the Qur'an, while emulating the Prophet’s noble principles and exemplary moral conduct and behaviour. His companions must have attempted to emulate him in this spirit, and therefore they earned God’s accolade as ‘the best community (Khairah Ummatin)’. (3:110/Ch. 29.1). Thus they succeeded in founding a vibrant and tolerant civilization that preserved the intellectual heritage of Hellenic, Greek and Roman civilizations (thanks to massive translation undertakings), made remarkable contribution to the advancement of knowledge and progress of civilization, and most importantly, allowed the native religions and civilizations to survive and flourish in the lands they conquered. Thus Aramic is still spoken in Syria, near Damascus, the capital of the first Islamic dynasty (the Umayyads) and the native faith-communities have flourished in India and Spain – to give just a few examples.
The orthodox quote the Qur’anic oft-repeated exhortations to love, obey and follow the Prophet9 as an indication to follow his normative behavior (Sunna). The Qur’an, however, does not connect the generic termsunnah to the Prophet but uses it to refer to universal laws and patterns in both physical and moral realms. As there is a subtle but sharp distinction between the concepts of Sunna of the Prophet and the Hadith literature, the matter needs clarification to avoid any confusion in the interpretation of Islamic message. We have taken this up in the enclosure (Encl. 4) to avoid distraction from our main theme.
1. 5:99, 7:158 13:40, 42:48. [Note 200/Ch. 3]
2. 5:92, 16:82, 24:54 [Note 201/Ch. 3]
3. 14:1, 57:9. [Note 202/Ch. 3]
4. 7:52, 16:64, 27:77. [Note 12/Preface]
5. 31:3. [Note 13/Preface]
6. 2:2, 3:138, 24:34. [Note 14/Preface]
7. 2:185, 10:108, 14:52. [Note 15/Preface]
8. 3:144, 18:110, 41:6. [Note 196/Ch. 3]
9. 3:31, 3:32, 3:132, 4:69, 4:80, 5:56, 5:92, 24:52, 24:54, 24:56, 64:12.
In the early years of the Medinite period, ‘not disobeying any bidding to do the good (ma‘ruf)’, was regarded as one of the pillars of faith.1 But as the revelation was underway, it was excluded from the list of pillars as conceivably the pagan Arabs identified the new faith with this core requirement, and hardly needed any reminding during conversion, as we have reviewed later (Ch. 44.1). Thus in a way, this pillar has remained latent since the early years of Islam.
The doing of good deeds is by far the most repeated of Qur'anic exhortations - which appears either singularly, or in combination with prayer and, or other commandments. The significance of good deeds can be best appreciated by the fact the Qur’an describes it as a common criterion for divine approval for all people regardless of faith (Ch. 9.4) and accordingly, the Qur'an asks Muslims to “vie (with each other) in goodness” (2:148).
“Everyone has a goal to which he turns: so vie (with each other) in goodness, (and remember,) wherever you may be, God will bring you all together. Indeed God is Capable of everything” (2:148).
The Qur’an’s repeated reference to good deeds as distinct from purely religious obligations, such as salat, Zakat, hajj and fasting; and its exhortations to people of other faiths to do good deeds clearly indicate that the Qur’an treats all those deeds as good, which bring about material good to human beings.
“Indeed, the heedful (Muttaqin) shall be in shades and springs (77:41), and (will have) fruits as they desire (42). (It will be said to them): ‘Eat and drink to (your) satisfaction for what you did (43). Thus do We reward the compassionate’” (77:44).
“By this City of Security (95:3), Indeed We have created human being in the finest model (ahsani taqwim) (4), but then We debased him to the lowest of the low (5) - except those who believe and do good deeds: theirs is a reward unending” (95:6).
“Man is indeed at a loss (103:2), except those who believe and do good deeds, and exhort to truth, and exhort to patience” (103:3).
“Those who believe and do good deeds and feel humble before their Lord – it is they (who are) the inmates of the garden, and they will remain there” (11:23).
“This Qur'an guides to that (which is) upright, and gives good news to the believers who do good deeds that theirs is a great reward” (17:9).
“He will reward those who believe and do good deeds: it is these that shall have forgiveness and a noble provision” (34:4).
“You will see (O Muhammad,) wrongdoers fearing on account of what they have earned, and it must befall them; and those who believe and do good deeds shall be in the meadows of gardens: they shall have anything they please from their Lord - that will be a great grace (42:22). That is the good news God gives to those servants who believe and do good deeds. Say: ‘I do not ask you any payment for this except love from (fi) the relatives (al-qurba). (Remember,) anyone who earns any good, We add goodness to it. Indeed God is Most Forgiving and Appreciative’” (42:23).
This particle fi in the verse has been often conveniently but misleadingly rendered as ‘to’ instead of ‘from’ thereby implying that Muslims should extend love and affection to the Prophet’s relatives at all times. However, for Muslims there is nothing wrong in doing so, though there is no Qur’anic injunction to do so (Ch. 14.1).
The substance and tone of the revelation had changed with the Prophet’s change in role from a mere preacher, talking to a hostile audience in Mecca, to the head of a community and the lawgiver in Medina, but it maintained its emphasis on good deeds. Thus one of the verses (24:55) from a mid-Medinite Sura (al-Nur), addressed to the Prophet’s struggling followers promises an eventual success and security in lieu of the fear in which they had been living for so long, but makes its promise contingent to their doing of good deeds. It was also during this period that the Qur’an declares the doing of good deeds as a common criterion for divine approval for all believers, including the Christians and Jews (Ch. 9.4).
“As for those who believe and do good deeds, He will grant them their reward in full. (Remember,) God does not love the wrongdoers” (3:57).
“God has promised those who believe and do good deeds that they shall have forgiveness and a great reward” (5:9).
“God will admit those who believe and do good deeds into gardens with streams running past. Surely God does anything He wishes” (22:14).
“God has promised those of you who believe and do good deeds that He will make them successors on earth, as He made successors before them, and that He will establish for them their religion which He has chosen for them, and that He will change their (state of) fear into (one of) security: they shall serve Me (alone) and not associate (others) with Me - and whoever is ungrateful after this, it is they who are perverse” (24:55).
16.4. Cardinal Significance Of Good Deeds In Islam
The foregoing verses on good deeds, and scores of others listed in the Notes, drawn from across the revelation calendar, clearly indicate the cardinal significance of good deeds in Islam. The primacy of good deeds in the Qur’an can be best demonstrated by its following key illustrations:
i) In its sole verse on the virtues of the Prophet’s companions, the Qur’an promises divine forgiveness and reward to only “those of them who believe and do good deeds.”
“Muhammad is the Messenger of God, and those who are with him are firm against the disbelievers, and compassionate among themselves. You will see them kneeling down and prostrating themselves, seeking God’s blessing and approval. Their marks are on their faces due to the effect of prostration. Their parable in the Torah, and their parable in the Gospel is that of a crop-seed that sends forth its sprout, and then strengthens it, and grows strong, and stands firmly on its stem to the farmers’ admiration, enraging the disbelievers at them. God has promised those of them who believe and do good deeds, forgiveness and a great reward” (48:29).
ii) God’s promise to the wounded followers of the Prophet who responded to his call to chasing the victorious Quraysh army on their way home (to Mecca) from Uhud was specifically for “those among them who did good and remained heedful (Wattaqu)” (Note 84/Ch.3).
iii) Its sole verse on the spiritual merit of those who were first to emigrate from Mecca to Medina, distinguishes them as the doers of good deeds:
“As for the vanguard (of Islam): the first of those who emigrated (muhajirin) and those who supported them (Ansar), and (also) those who follow them in good deeds – God is pleased with them, and they are pleased with Him: He has prepared for them gardens with streams flowing past, to remain there for ever: that is the supreme triumph” (9:100).
Finally, it is noteworthy that in a foreign rendition such as the foregoing, the Qur’anic exhortations on good deeds appear repetitive, but in the Arabic Qur’an, each verse occupies its distinctive place in the text and displays its own linguistic subtlety, internal assonance, and rhythmic flow and movement, which simply cannot be captured in translation, and therefore the Qur’an cannot be blamed for any repetitiveness.
1. Sahih al-Bukhari, English translation by Mohsin Khan, New Delhi 1984, Vol.1, Acc. 17.
2. 84:25, 85:11, 99:7/8.
3. 7:42, 10:4, 10:9, 10:26, 13:29, 14:23, 18:2, 18:30, 18:107/110, 19:59/60, 19:76, 19:96, 20:75, 20:112, 21:94, 28:67, 28:80, 29:7, 29:9, 29:58, 30:14/15, 30:44/45, 31:8, 32:19, 34:37, 35:7, 38:28, 39:10, 39:33/34, 40:58, 41:8, 41:33, 41:46, 42:26, 45:15, 45:21, 45:30, 67:2.
4. 2:25, 4:57, 4:122, 4:173, 22:23, 22:50, 22:56, 22:77, 47:2, 47:12, 98:7.
In some of its early passages (Suras 89 and 90),1 the Qur’an warns it audience of their innate selfishness, their inordinate greed for riches, their eagerness to consume their inheritance, and their lack of concern for the poor.
“As for man, whenever his Lord tries him by honouring him, and bestowing favour on him, he says: ‘My Lord has honoured me (89:15). But when He tries him, and restricts his provision for him, he says: ‘My Lord has disgraced me’ (16). Nay! But you do not respect the orphan (17), nor do you encourage (others) to feed the poor (18) and you consume inheritance with all-consuming greed (19) and you love wealth with intense passion” (89:20).
“We have created man in distress (90:4). Does he think no one has power over him (5)? He says, I have used up much wealth (6). Does he think that no one sees him (7)? Did I not make for him two eyes (8), and a tongue, and two lips (9), and guided him to the two highways (10)? But he does not brave the steep (one) (11). And what will make you understand what the steep (one) is (12)? (It is) freeing a slave (13), or feeding during famine (14) an orphaned relative (15), or the needy (lying) in the dust (16). Then he will be of those who believe, who exhort to patience, and exhort to mercy” (90:17).
With the progress of the revelation, the Qur’an becomes more explicit and categorical in reminding its audience of their broader social responsibilities, and declares:
“Give their due to relatives, and to the needy and the traveler (ibn al-sabil),2 and do not squander wastefully (17:26), for those who squander are the brethren of Satan, and Satan is ungrateful to his Lord (27). But if you (have to) turn away from them awaiting God's mercy which you may expect, then (at least) speak to them courteously (28). Do not keep your hands chained to your neck, nor stretch it out to (the limits) of its reach - lest you sit back blamed and destitute” (17:29).
“Give their due to relatives, and to the needy and the traveler.2 This is best for those who seek God’s favor,* and it is they who shall succeed” (30:38). *[Lit., ‘Countenance of God’.]
In its legislative phase in the Medinite period, the Qur’an reiterates its precepts on social responsibilities (2:215, 2:177, 4:36-38), warns against miserliness and ostentation (4:37/38) and enjoins helping out all people regardless of faith (4:36).
“They ask you (O Muhammad,) what they should spend. Say: ‘Whatever fair (earnings) you spend, should be on (your) parents, relatives, orphans, the needy and the traveler’2 (Remember,) whatever good you do, God remains Cognizant of it” (2:215).
“(God does not love) those who are miserly and encourage people (to be) miserly, or hide what God has given them of His bounty. (Remember,) We have prepared a humiliating punishment for the disbelievers (4:37): those who spend their wealth for publicity, but have no faith in God or the hereafter. (Remember,) anyone who takes Satan for a friend, has an evil companion” (4:38).
“Serve God; associate none with Him; be kind to parents, relatives (Qurba), orphans, and the needy; to the neighbour close to you (Qurba) and the neighbour who is a stranger, to the fellow (sahib)3 by your side and the traveler,2 and to those under your lawful trust. Surely God does not love the arrogant and the conceited” (4:36).
The verse speaks about two categories of people described as Qurba: a word that traditionally connotes relative, as rendered in its first appearance. However, the word literally means ‘the close ones.’ Therefore, in the second instance it understandably stands for people who are close enough, but not necessarily relatives.4 The subsequent reference to the neighbour who is a ‘stranger’ neither a relative, nor ‘close enough,’ must therefore include anyone, regardless of religion, nationality, or race. In other words, this verse explicitly calls for kindness to all people including strangers who may belong to other faiths, nationalities or races.
Due to various reasons - social, economical and financial, children often ignore or do not take care of their parents and are at times harsh and rude to them. Hence, to maintain family harmony and justice, the Qur’an commands the believers to be kind to parents (29:8/Ch. 11.2; 17:23/24, 31:14/15, 46:15).
“Your Lord has decreed that you serve none except Him, and be kind to parents. If one or both of them reaches old age with you - never say uff*, nor scold them, and speak to them in noble words (17:23); and lower your shoulder (of humility) to them with affection, and say: ‘My Lord! Have mercy on both of them - as they nurtured me (when I was) small’” (17:24). *[An Arabic utterance, indicative of deep frustration.]
“We have enjoined on man (kindness) to his parents. His mother bore him with spell after spell of weakness, and his weaning takes two years. So be grateful to Me and to your parents, and (remember,) the journey is to Me (31:14). If they press you to associate with Me that, of which you have no knowledge - do not obey them (in religion,) but give them company in this world decently, and follow the path of one who turns to Me. (Remember,) you will (eventually) return to Me, and I will tell you what you did” (31:15).
“We have enjoined on man kindness to his parents. His mother bore him with hardship, and gave him birth painfully. His bearing and his weaning are for thirty months,5 until he grows strong. Then when he attains full maturity reaching forty years, let him say: ‘My Lord, inspire me to be grateful for the favor you have bestowed on me and on my parents, and (dispose me) to do good deeds that you approve, and be gracious to me in respect of my offspring. Indeed, I turn to You (in repentance), and I am among those who submit (muslimun)’” (46:15).
2. The expression ibn al-sabil literally means ‘the son of the street.’ Traditionally, it is translated, befittingly, as traveller, as at the time of the revelation (and through to the recent centuries) many travellers ended up as destitute and homeless in foreign lands, without any means to returning to their homelands. In today’s context the expression may be applied to the countless homeless people that may be found taking shelter on street sides, parks, under highways and on the pavements near railway stations in many parts of the world.
3. The word sahab connotes any human being - an inmate, a companion, colleague, an associate, or anyone for that matter, who comes our way.
4. Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Chap. 4, Note 47.
5. The 30-months period of hardship mentioned in 46:15 as against two years (24-months) in 31:14 for only weaning is due to inclusion of six months of ‘bearing' period (haml) in 46:15. This is understandably because the embryo is barely six centimeters long at the end of ten weeks, and forms an effective burden of pregnancy only after the third month of pregnancy. [W.J.Hamilton, Introduction to Biology, 3rd edition,U.K. 1976, p. 115.]
18. Spending Money on the Needy
At an early stage of the revelation, the Qur’an introduces its revolutionary concept of sharing of one’s income with the needy in a highly poetic imagery:
“By the night as it covers (the day) (92:1), by the day and its glory (2), and by the creation of the male and the female (3) - your striving is to diverse ends (4). As for him who gives and heeds (5), and endorses goodness (6), We shall facilitate for him the easy (way) (7). And as for him who is miserly and (feels) self-sufficient (8), and belies goodness (9), We shall facilitate for him the (path to) hardship (10). His wealth will be of no avail as he goes down (to his grave)” (92:11).
The bulk of Qur’anic verses on spending for the needy were revealed in the Medinite period when Muslims were flourishing and many of them were in a position to spend for their needy relatives and fellowmen. Its statements take into account the behavioural aspects and crafty machinations of human mind, as can be clearly seen in the renderings of its verses.
“Who is it that will lend God a generous loan, which He will multiply for him many folds? (Remember,) God can take away as well as give in abundance, and you (all) will (eventually) return to Him” (2:245).
“You who believe, spend of what We have given you before there comes a Day in which there will be no bartering, no friendship, and no intercession; and as for the disbelievers - they are the unjust” (2:254).
“You who believe, let neither your wealth nor your children distract you from God’s remembrance. Those who do so – it is they who will be the losers (63:9). So spend (in charity) out of what We have given you before death comes to any of you, and he says: ‘My Lord, why not grant me delay for a short while that I give in charity and be among the righteous’” (63:10).
“Spend in God's way, yet do not expose yourself to ruin through your own hands, and do good – for indeed, God loves the compassionate” (2:195).
“And whatever you may spend (in charity) or promise you swear, surely God knows it; but there are no helpers for the unjust (2:270). If you (give in) charity openly, it is fine, but if you keep it secret and give it to the needy, it is even better for you, and it will atone for some of your sins. (Remember,) God is Informed of what you do (271). It is not up to you (O Muhammad,) to guide them, since God (alone) guides whom He wills. Whatever you spend for a good (cause) is for yourself - as you do not spend but to please God - and whatever you spend for a good (cause), shall be repaid to you in full, and you shall not be wronged” (2:272).
“Those who spend their wealth (in charity) - night and day, secretly and openly - they have their reward with their Lord: there will be no fear upon them nor shall they grieve”(2:274).
“Those who are patient in seeking the favor* of their Lord and keep up prayer and spend (in charity) of what We have given them, secretly and openly, and repel evil with good – it is they who shall attain (fulfilment in) the eternal abode” (13:22). *[Lit., ‘Countenance’.]
“Those who spend their wealth in God’s way, and do not follow up on what is spent with reproach or with abuse - for them, their reward is with their Lord - there will be no fear upon them, nor shall they grieve” (2:262).
“Kind words and forgiveness are better than an act of charity followed by abuse. (Remember,) God is Self-Sufficient and Gracious” (2:263).
“You who believe, do not nullify your charity by reproach or abuse, like someone who spends his wealth only to be seen in public - while he does not believe in God, nor in the hereafter. His example is that of a boulder with some soil on it; when rainstorm strikes it, leaves it barren: they can do nothing with whatever they have earned. (Remember,) God does not guide the disbelieving people” (2:264).
“Let not the resourceful among you who have abundance swear not to give to relatives, needy, and those who fled along God’s way. Let them forgive and overlook. Don’t you like that God should forgive you? (Remember,) God is Most Forgiving and Merciful” (24:22).
“You who believe, spend (in charity) of the good things you have earned, and from what We have produced for you from the earth. Do not choose the bad things from it for your spending, that you would not take except with disdain; and know that God is Self-Sufficient and Praiseworthy” (2:267).
“You can never acquire virtue (birr)* unless you spend (in charity) what you care for. (Remember,) whatever you spend – surely God remains Cognizant of it” (3:92). *[Lit., ‘moral excellence’]
“Your wealth and your children are only a trial, while God (holds) a splendid reward with Him (64:15). So heed God as best you can, listen, obey and spend (in charity) for your own good. And anyone who curbs his inborn greed – it is they who shall succeed (64:16). (Remember,) if you give a generous loan to God, He will multiply it for you, and forgive you, for God is Appreciative and Gracious” (64:17).
“Anyone who fears (to face) the Presence of his Lord and restrains his soul from lowly desires (79:40) – surely the garden will be (his) abode” (79:41).
“Charities are for the poor (Fuqara’) and the needy (Masakin) and the workers (who administer) them, and for those who have embraced faith*, and for (freeing) the slaves, and for (assisting) debtors, and (for spending) in God's way, and for the traveler (ibn al-Sabil)2 – an ordinance (Faridah) from God. (Remember,) God is All-Knowing and Wise” (9:60). *[Lit., ‘whose hearts have reconciled’.]
1. The underlined stipulation of this verse from Surah al- Maidah revealed in the concluding phase of the revelation, legislates charity (sadaqah) as a compulsory obligation (faridah) for all Muslims, who can afford to give charity. Later Caliph Umar institutionalized it as the Zakat (Ch. 46)
2. According to a written clarification of Caliph Umar to the Custodian of the Zakat fund,3 the words Fuqara’ and Masakin in the opening part of the verse, rendered as ‘the poor and the needy’, represent the poor and needy from Muslims (Fuqara’), and non-Muslims (Masakin) respectively. Thus the rendering of the verse should ideally read: “Charity is (meant) for the poor (Muslims,) and the poor (of any other religion)…”
3: The verse calls for giving charity to, among others, i) those who have embraced faith, and ii) slaves for buying their freedom. The slaves who embraced faith are included in the former category (i). Therefore, the slaves who are to be given charity to buy their freedom (ii above), must be the non-Muslim ones.
“(Charity is for) the poor (Fuqara’), who being confined in God’s cause, are unable to exert on earth (for livelihood). The ignorant think them to be self-sufficient because of their modesty, but you shall know them by their looks, as they do not beg of people with impunity. (Remember,) whatever good (things) you spend – surely God remains Cognizant of it” (2:273)
The verse indicates the Qur’an’s general disapproval of beggary. The Qur’an however does not emphasize this point in its broader message as disasters and calamities force their victims to ask for help.
1. 57:11, 57:18.
2. See Note 2/Ch. 17 for broader meaning.
3. Shibli Noumani, al-Faruq, 1898, Karachi reprint 1991, p. 250.
An early passage, beginning with a statement on the innate instability of human mind, interweaves a set of moral precepts, including wealth sharing (as discussed in the preceding section) and sexual and ethical morality.
“Man (insan) has been created restless (70:19). He is panicky when evil befalls him (20) and ungrateful when something good happens to him (21), except the prayerful (22): those who are regular in prayer (23), and in whose wealth, there is a definite right for (24) the beggar and the destitute (25); and who affirm the (truth of) the Day of Judgment (26); and who fear the punishment of their Lord (27) - for indeed none should feel secure from their Lord’s punishment (28); and who preserve their private parts (furujah)* (29) - except from their spouses (azwaj), that is (awe) those under their lawful trust (ma malakat ayman), and then (they are) not blame worthy (30), and those who seek beyond that exceed limits (31); and who preserve their trusts and commitments (32), and who stand by their testimony (33), and who watch over their prayer (34). Such (people) shall be in gardens, highly honored” (70:35). *[Sexual impulses.]
Note: The traditional gender biased rendering of the underlined transliterated words (masculine for insan and feminine for the others) with normative translation of the particle awe (70:30) as ‘or’, instead of ‘that is' allows the verses 70:29/30 to be interpreted as a sanction for men to keep mistresses. This, however, contradicts Qur’anic family laws (which explicitly prohibit extra-marital relations), as well as Qur’anic inheritance laws (which do not mention any mistress or unwedded spouse, though claiming to cover all family relationships (4:33/Ch. 38.4). Our rendition maintains the gender integrity of the passage, is based on the Qur’anic usage of its particle awe in the verse 25:62,1 is supported by Muhammad Asad2 and conforms to the broader message of the Qur’an.
With time, the Qur’an admonishes against various mundane as well as grave vices such as foul talk, miserliness, bearing a false witness, adultery (zina)3 killing of innocent people, and all manners of abominable acts (fawahishah),4 and reiterates its exhortation against unwedded relationships. [The verses 70:29/30 above and 23:5/6 below have identical text.]
“Believers will indeed succeed (23:1): those who are humble in their prayer (2), who avoid foul talk (3), who are active in charity (zakah)5 (4), and who preserve their private parts (furujah)* (5) - except from their spouses, that is, those under their lawful trust - and then (they are) not blame worthy (6); and those who seek beyond that – it is they who exceed limits (7); and those who are faithful to their trust and their commitment (8), and who watch over their prayers (9) - it is they who are the heirs (10) who will inherit Paradise; and they will remain there” (23:11). *[Sexual impulses.]
“Those who are alert in fear of their Lord (23:57), and those who believe in the message of their Lord (58), and those who do not associate (others) with their Lord (59), and those who give whatever they give with their hearts trembling (at the thought that) they must return to their Lord (60) - – it is they who hasten to all good things, and they will outpace (others) in this” (23:61).
“The servant of the Benevolent is those who walk humbly on earth and when the ignorant address them, they say ‘Peace.’ (25:63), and those who meditate on their Lord by night standing and prostrating (64), and those who say: ‘God, avert from us the torment of hell - whose torment undoubtedly is terrible (65), and surely it is an evil place for abode (66); and those, when they spend, are not wasteful, nor miserly but take a position in between (67); and those who do not invoke any deity with God, nor kill any person as God has forbidden this - except when lawful; nor commit adultery (la yaznuna)3 - for whoever does that will meet punishment (68), (and such) punishment will be doubled on the Day of Judgment and he will live there in disgrace (69) - except those who repent, have faith, and do good deeds - for God will substitute the evil in them for good, as God is Most Forgiving and Merciful (70), and anyone who repents and does good deeds has truly turned to God in repentance (71); and those who bear no false witness, and if they pass by folly - pass by with dignity (72); and those who, when reminded of the messages of their Lord, do not fall at them deaf and blind (oblivious of their message) (73); and those who say: ‘Our Lord, give us joy* in our spouses and our offspring and make us models for the heedful (Muttaqin)’ (74) – it is they (who) will be rewarded with lofty abodes for their endurance, and they will be received there with salutations and peace” (25:75). * [Lit., ‘delights of the eye’.]
“Say, ‘Come, I will tell what your Lord has made binding (Haram) on you: do not associate anything with Him, be kind to (your) parents, do not kill your children on account of poverty - We provide for you as well as for them, keep away from abomination (fawahishah) - whether open or secret, do not kill any person as God has forbidden this - except when lawful.’ Thus does He command you, that you may use your reason (6:151). ‘And do not approach the property of an orphan before his full maturity - except for its betterment, give full measure and (use) true scale: We do not task a soul beyond its capacity; and when you speak, uphold justice (fa‘dilu) even if it concerns a relative, and fulfil the covenant of God.’ Thus does He instruct you that you may be mindful (152). This is My straight path: so follow it, and do not follow (other) paths - lest you should be parted from His path. Thus He instructs you for you to heed” (6:153).
The Qur’anic moral precepts of the Haram category (6:151-6:153 above) are binding for all believers at all times. Most Muslims today are very particular about what they eat; and take only Haram food. This is fine. But they hardly take the broader Qur’anic message on what all are declared Haram with a similar zeal. The fact remains, one can have the most sumptuous meal even by keeping away from the Haram category of food, but to abide by the precepts of the Qur’an on the whole range of Hurmah deeds, is a totally different matter. Moreover, a food of the Haram category (properly slaughtered and cooked with Haram recipe) is liable to become Haram if it is acquired by unlawful means (Ch. 25.2). So, an exaggerated emphasis on the method of slaughtering may not be all that meaningful, if the lawfulness of earning is ignored.
In the western world, various Islamic agencies advise Muslims on what food items are Haram or otherwise. Like-wise, some commercial houses claim the ‘lawfulness’ of their products (consumer goods, cosmetics etc.) by not using ingredients from a source, declared unlawful (Haram) for food (such as animal slaughtered without Islamic rites). However, the Qur’anic notion of Haram and Haram as clearly spelled out in the above verses is far wider.
Medinite verse (2:177) declares that piety or heedfulness (Taqwa, Ch. 8)
is not attained merely by expression of faith, and outward gesture of
“Virtue (birr)* does not mean that you turn your faces towards the East or West; but (imbued with) virtue (birr) is one who believes in God, the Last Day, the angels, the revelation (Kitab)** and the prophets; and gives away his wealth - out of love for Him - to relatives, orphans, the needy (Masakin),6 the traveler (ibn al-sabil),7 and the beggar, and for (the freeing of) slaves; and (virtuous are those who) keep up prayer and give charity; and (virtuous are also those) who fulfill their commitments, once they have pledged (to them), and show endurance in suffering and adversity, and during times of peril – it is these people who confirm (the truth), and it is they who are heedful (muttaqun)” (2:177). *[Lit., ‘moral excellence’] **[Lit., the Book, the divine edict.]
1. “And He it is Who has appointed night and day in succession, for anyone who desires to remember, that is (awe), desires thankfulness” (25:62).
2. Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Chap. 23, Note 3; Chap.70, Note 13.
3. In the context of the revelation, the word zina (verb yaznun) connoted wilful sexual relation of a married woman with a man.
4. Commentators agree that fahishah denotes an act or a behavior that is grossly immodest, indecent and abominable, and includes sexual lewdness, adultery and pandering to such deeds by speech, suggestion or action -Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar, 1980, Chap. 4, Note 14.
5. See Glossary for broader notion of zakah.
6. See Explanation 2 under the rendering of 9:60/Ch. 18.8 for the generic meaning of masakin.
7. See Note 2/Ch. 17 for the broader meaning of ibn al-sabil.
The Qur'an asks people to restrain anger, forgive others (3:134), return a greeting with a nicer greeting (4:86), speak nicely avoiding conflict (17:53), and refrain from talking evil in public without being wronged (4:148).
“Hasten to forgiveness from your Lord, and to a garden - as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the heedful (muttaqin) (3:133): those who spend (in charity) in (times of) plenty as well as hardship, restrain anger and forgive people for God loves the compassionate” (3:134).
“When you are greeted with a greeting, return it with a more courteous greeting or (at least) its like. Indeed God takes account of everything” (4:86).
“God does not love of evil talk in public except by one who has been wronged. (Remember,) God is All-Knowing and Aware” (4:148).
“Tell My servants to say what is best - for verily Satan sows dissension among them, for Satan is an open enemy to man” (17:53).
The Qur’an asks people to maintain a modest bearing and not to behave arrogantly or talk loudly (17:37, 31:18/19), and reminds them that the harshest of sound is the braying of an ass (31:19). It cautions people against believing any wicked person without verifying facts (49:6).
“And do not walk arrogantly on earth - for you can neither cleave the earth apart, nor reach the mountains in height” (17:37).
“(Said Luqman to his son): ‘Do not turn your cheek away from people (in scorn), nor walk arrogantly on earth. Surely God does not love any arrogant boaster (31:18). Therefore, be modest in your bearing, and keep your voice low; (and remember) the harshest of sounds is the braying of an ass’” (31:19).
“You who believe, if a wicked person comes to you with a (slanderous) news, verify it, otherwise you may ignorantly harm (other) people, and become regretful for what you have done” (49:6).
The Qur’an condemns slandering (24:23), backbiting, scandal-mongering, excessive suspicion (49:12, 104:1) and miserliness (47:38, 104:2) and does not approve of showing contempt or giving derogatory nicknames to other people (49:11).
“Those who (falsely) accuse carefree, believing, chaste women are cursed in this life and (in) the hereafter, and there is a severe punishment for them” (24:23).
“Behold, (O you people!) You are invited to spend in God's way, but some of you are miserly; though whoever is miserly, is being miserly to his own soul. (Remember,) God is Self-Sufficient, whereas you stand in need. If you turn away (from His path), He will replace you with other people, and they would not be like you” (47:38).
“You who believe, let not any people (qawm) among you mock other people (qawm) who may be better than they are; nor should some women (ridicule) other women who may be better than they are; and do not find fault in each other, nor insult others with (insulting) nicknames. (Giving) an insulting name after embracing the faith is most wicked, and those who do not repent (after giving such nicknames to others) – it is they who are unjust” (49:11).
“You who believe, avoid excessive suspicion, for suspicion in some cases is a sin; and do not spy (over others), nor backbite each other. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it! So heed God and (remember,) God is Most Relenting and Merciful” (49:12).
“Woe to every backbiting critic (104:1), who amasses wealth, and keeps counting it (and does not spend in charity)” (104:2).
“Children of Adam, conduct yourselves graciously (khuzu zinatakum) at every place of worship. Eat and drink - but do not be lavish*, for He does not approve of those who are given to excesses” (7:31). *[Lit. ‘to be given to excesses’.]
Note: Based on the generic Qur’anic notion of the word zinat as God’s endowments, the most accurate rendering of the transliterated words will be ‘hold on to your God given endowments (zinat).’ We have tried to capture the essence of this literal rendering in the underlined words. In a very restrictive sense fine clothes are also God’s endowments, and accordingly the words have been traditionally rendered to imply the wearing of one’s best dress at every place and occasion of prayer.
The Qur'an commands justice (7:29, 16:90), and places it in the Hurmah (binding) category (6:152/Ch. 19).
“Say: ‘My Lord has commanded justice (Qist), and that you set your whole selves (to Him) at all your prostrations* (in prayer) and call on Him with sincerity of faith. (Remember,) as He (brought you forth) in the beginning, so shall you return (to Him)’” (7:29). *[Lit., ‘places of worship’.]
“God commands justice (‘adl) and goodness and giving to fellowmen (qurba),1 and He forbids the abominable, the evil, and terrorism, and instructs you that you may be mindful” (16:90)
The Qur’an asks people to return honestly, what may be under their trust to their owners, and to judge justly among people (4:58), even if they nurtured any hatred against them (5:8), and to bear witness justly and without any kind of bias or discrimination (4:135).
“God commands you to return (what is under your) trust back to their folk; and to judge with justice (‘adl), when you judge between people (nas). Noble indeed is what God instructs you for surely God is Observant and Aware” (4:58).
“You who believe, be upright as witnesses to justice (qist) before God – even it be against yourselves, or (your) parents or relatives, or whether it concerns the rich, or the poor. God can best protect both. Therefore do not follow (your) whim, lest you detract from justice (‘adl); and if you swerve, or decline (to do justice), (remember,) God is Informed of what you do” (4:135).
“You who believe, be upright before God as witnesses to justice (qist), and let not the hatred of any people prompt you to detract from justice (‘adl). Deal justly: this is nearest to heedfulness (Taqwa); and heed God. Surely God is Informed of what you do” (5:8).
The Qur’an acknowledges the role of a category of people who are trained to guide the judges by way of truth so that justice prevails (7:159/181).
“And among the people of Moses there is a community who guide (others) in the way of truth and do justice (ya‘dilun) thereby” (7:159).
“Among those that We have created, there is a community who guide (others) in the way of truth and do justice (ya‘dilun) thereby” (7:181).
The Qur’anic pronouncements on the criteria of divine justice (6:160, 28:84)2 are suggestive of the principle of proportionality of crime and punishment that may also hold for worldly affairs.
“Anyone who brings forth goodness (on the Day of Judgement,) will be rewarded ten times like it, while anyone who brings forth evil shall not be recompensed except with its like; and they will not be wronged” (6:160).
“Whoever brings about good, has an even better reward, while whoever brings about evil - the evildoers are not recompensed but for what they did” (28:84).
The Qur’anic pronouncements on justice as listed in the foregoing are clear, concise and unambiguous and together establish one of its revolutionary principles. Until the advent of Islam and for centuries to come, the poor and the weak were denied justice while the rich and the mighty enjoyed a privileged form of justice that institutionalized oppression and injustice in human society. The Qur’an abolished all this, and paved the way for the establishment of societies, in which the weakest could take the strongest to the court of law and get justice.
To sum up, and to strengthen our argument with a practical illustration, we quote below one of Caliph Umar’s proclamations directed to his governors (rendering from Arabic/Urdu):3
“Administration of justice is an essential duty after the praise of God. Treat people equally, whether in your immediate presence, or in your court, so that the weak do not despair of justice, and the guilty may not be hopeful of your concession. One who makes a claim requires proving it. One who denies must take an oath. Compromise is permitted, provided it does not turn the Haram (permissible) into Haram (forbidden), and vice versa. If you have to give a decision tomorrow, reflect on it carefully today. If you have doubt on any matter not contained in the Qur'an or the Prophet’s Sunna (example), deeply ponder over it, and take account of similar instances and others’ opinions, and reflect over it logically...”
1. As in case of the verse 4:36/Ch. 17.3, the word qurba has been rendered in its broader connotation as fellowmen.
2. 42:40/Ch. 12.2; 40:40, 53:31.
3. Shibli Noumani, al-Faruq, 1898, Karachi reprint 1991, p. 191/192.
The Qur'an forbids the usurping of others’ properties by bribing the authorities (2:188), or by commercial exploitation - even with mutual consent (4:29).
“Do not unjustly consume (kulu) others’ wealth*, nor try to bribe the authorities with it, that you may viciously but knowingly consume a portion of (other) people’s wealth” (2:188). *[Lit., ‘your wealth among yourselves’.]
“You who believe, do not consume (kulu) others’ wealth* - not even by (illa) way of trade with mutual consent, and do not kill yourselves for indeed God has been merciful to you (4:29). But whoever does that maliciously and unjustly, We shall soon cause him to endure fire, and that is easy enough for God” (4:30). *[Lit., as in 2:188 above.]
Note: The underlined rendering above is based on the Qur’anic usage of the particle illa in the verse 27:11, as advocated by Muhammad Asad.1
The Qur’an also denounces the tendency of wealthy businessmen to take over the business and assets of small stakeholders. This is demonstrated in the story of two disputing brothers who approached the Prophet David climbing the wall of his sanctuary. One of them complained to David that his brother had ninety-nine ewes and wanted to take charge of his sole ewe. David replied that his brother had certainly wronged him by demanding his ewe, and added that so many business associates do indeed treat each other unjustly.2
At the time of the revelation, the economy was based on the barter system, and goods, such as corn, dates, etc. were ‘weighed out’ or ‘measured out’ in exchange of goods and services received. Accordingly, the Qur’an calls for giving full measure, and using correct weights and true scales (6:152/Ch. 19.2; 17:35, 26:181/182, 55:9), and forbids cheating and tampering with scales (83:1-3).
“And give full measure when you measure out, and weigh with straight scales. This is better and fairer in the end” (17:35).
“Give full measure, and be not among cheaters (26:181). Weigh with straight scales (182), and do not diminish the goods of (other) people (by under-weighing them), and do not act wickedly on earth as corruptors (mufsidin)” (26:183).
“Establish (standard) weights justly and do not tamper the scale (mizan)*” (55:9). *[The Qur’an also connotes this word with the overall balance of all things in creation,3 and with the criteria of truth and falsehood.4]
“Woe to the cheaters (83:1) – who demand full (measure) when they receive by measure from people (2) - but when they measure out for them, or weigh for them, cheat (them)” (83:3).
The Qur’anic commandments to maintaining the integrity of weights, measurements and scales in commercial transactions is aimed at ensuring fair payment for goods and services. However, as with many other social and binding injunctions, Muslim leaders and rulers tend to ignore it to the great detriment of their community. As this is adversely impacting the progress and well being of Islamic societies to this very day, the matter merits further elucidation.
Throughout the medieval era, Muslim ‘ulama and intelligentsia, by and large, supported the prevalent feudal system, which was built on low wages for goods produced and services rendered by the common man. This tendency has accentuated in recent times in the Muslim world, resulting from increased supply of labor due to high unemployment levels, contributing to widening income disparity and concomitant social problems in most of Islamic nations.
Ironically, with the turn of the 20th century, the non-Muslim World, and particularly the West, have developed social norms and national laws that guarantee a far better payment for goods and services to their common people than what their counterparts get in the Muslim world. Indeed if making fair payment for goods and services received was to be among the principal criteria of piety or morality, as clearly indicated by the Qur’an, the present day Western society may, on this count, stand highly pious and moral, and the Muslim World, highly impious and immoral.
1. Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Chap. 4, Note 38.
2. 38:21-24. While Muslim commentators have cited this story to support an alleged love affair of David with the wife of one of his officers, this work focuses on the clear moral of the story and keeps away from theological speculations.
4. 42:17, 57:25. [Same as Note 17/Preface]
The Qur’an uses the term riba for usury, that is, lending money at exorbitant interest rates, as the traditional money-lenders practiced since ancient times. The Qur’an forbids usury (riba), and advocates fair business practices (2:275/276). It also encourages the believers to write off their outstanding interest against usury (riba) (2:278), and to remain content with the principle sum (2:279).
“Those who live off usury (riba) will never establish themselves, except as those* who are confounded by Satan’s touch. That is because they say ‘trade is like usury (riba)’. But God has permitted trade, and forbidden (harramah) usury (riba). As for anyone who gives up (usury) after receiving instruction from his Lord, let bygone be bygone: his case rests with God. But those who repeat – it is they (who are) the inmates of hellfire, and they will remain there (2:275). (Remember,) God wipes out usury (riba) and nourishes charity, and God does not love any ungrateful sinners” (2:276). *[Lit., ‘as those are established’.]
“You who believe, heed God, write off anything that remains outstanding from usury - if you are indeed believers (2:278). If you do not do so - take notice of war from God and His Messenger, but if you repent – you may (recover) your principal. Do not wrong (others), and you shall not be wronged” (2:279).
The Qur’an recognizes that on occasions a debtor may not be able to settle his debt on time, and therefore, it calls for easing terms of payment, or even writing off debts in appropriate cases:
“If someone is in a difficulty, wait until it is easy (for him to repay). But if you treat (your debt) as charity, it would be better for you, if you only knew” (2:280).
The Qur’an also refers to riba as a means of getting one’s wealth ‘doubled and multiplied’ (3:130), and forbids amassing wealth at the expense of others (30:39).
“You who believe, do not live off usury (riba), (and have your wealth) doubled and multiplied, but heed God, that you may succeed” (3:130).
“What you invest in usury (riba) that it might increase through the wealth of (other) people, does not increase with God; but what you give as zakat, seeking God’s favor* (increases with God), and it is they who shall have (their reward) multiplied” (30:39). *[Lit., ‘Face’.]
With the advent of modern banking and advanced financial institutions and instruments, there is an ongoing debate whether or not the profit earned as bank interest, and through other financial instruments fall in the riba (usury) category. Let us seek clarifications from the Qur’an, which is the final authority on all matters.
Firstly, the Qur’an allows Muslims to avail of all lawful things in life, that is, to earn their livelihood lawfully (2:168, 2:172):1
“O People! Avail of (kulu) all lawful and good things of what is in the earth, and do not follow Satan’s footsteps, for he is an open enemy to you” (2:168).
“You who believe! Avail of (kulu) the good things We have provided for you, and be grateful to God, if it is (truly) Him that you serve” (2:172).
Secondly, the Qur’an expects the believers to be serious with their business and professional pursuits. Thus, it urges the believers to disperse soon after the Friday congregational prayer in ‘pursuit of God’s bounties’ (fadlillah) [i.e. to resume normal work for livelihood]. (62:10/Ch. 45.1).
Thirdly, in the Qur’anic world view, humans are appointed as God’s deputy or agent (khalifah)2 on earth (2:30/Ch. 5.1), and the resources of nature have been placed at their services (31:20, 45:13/ Ch. 10).3
These illustrations clearly indicate that the Qur’an expects humans to engage themselves in lawful business, in trading across lands and seas, and in exploring and harnessing nature through industrial ventures. Thus, it will be fair to say that the Qur’anic message admits of wealth generation, as long it is not attained by exorbitant interest rates on deposits or loans (riba), or by fraudulent means, or grossly underpaying for goods and services (Ch. 22.3). With this we come to the question, whether the income earned as bank interest falls in the riba category and thus stand unlawful (Haram)? There are two ways to look at it:
1. The modern banking system requires a borrower to pay at a fixed interest rate, regardless of his financial condition or capability, and offers no mechanism for easing terms of loan repayment, or writing off a debt as charity as enjoined by the Qur’an (2:280), and therefore the earning from a bank as interest on deposits stands as riba, and so it is Haram. Moreover, the purely commercial basis of modern banking enables the rich to become richer at the expense of the poor, lends itself to manipulation by unethical businessmen, and even promotes such unlawful activities as gambling and prostitution, and therefore it conflicts with the Qur’anic world view.
2. Modern banking systems contain provisions for easing loan repayment and writing off debts against liquidity petitions. If these are applied in a just and fair manner, and internal audit mechanism is set in place to avoid fraudulent manipulations by directors, and to curb socially harmful investments, there may be no Qur’anic basis to declare modern banking unlawful (Haram). Besides, a bank very often lends depositors’ money for a lawful (Haram) business proposition: the recipients of bank loans include all types and categories of customers - from common citizens, students, farmers, patients and petty traders to businessmen and industrialists of all descriptions, and corporate giants making hospitals, housing complexes, cars, aircrafts etc. So long as such investment is lawful, and does not enable the depositor, or the board members of a bank to multiply their wealth through fraudulent means, it will be no different from that generated by fair trade as permitted by the Qur’an (2:279).
23.5. The lawfulness of modern banking
The modern banking system acts as the focal point for all trading and commercial activities, which are lawful in Islam. It serves as the main channel for extending an initial advance against an order and for transfer of payments after the execution of an order. It is also the financial service provider and enables a customer to settle his utility bills, taxes and to transfer funds to other accounts. It also advises the customers on investment options and helps them to buy. Thus, modern banking is a multifaceted financial institution that benefits the common man, the investors and promotes trade, commerce and industry at local, national and international levels. Traditional usury, on the other hand, benefited only the moneylenders who charged excessive interest rates to the borrowers. Thus, modern banking system stands miles apart from the traditional institution of usury and may not be paralleled with it.
Moreover, the modern banking system is based on paper currency, which is nothing but a promissory instrument, whose ‘real value’ (purchasing power) decreases with time. Therefore, a lender may lawfully take appropriate ‘inflationary adjustment’ from a bank to maintain the real value of his money, and thus keep his wealth intact as permitted by the Qur’an (2:279). It would therefore follow, that recovering appropriate ‘inflationary adjustment’ in the form of an interest against deposits in the present day economic scenario, would not necessarily constitute riba.
Finally, it may be added that of late some modern banks have adopted Islamic banking based on the Qur’anic principles of profit sharing and flexible debt recovery, and humanity may stand to benefit if this is extended to the poor section of the population, subject to adequate checks and balances.
1. 5:4, 5:88, 23:51.
2. 6:165, 27:62, 35:39. [Same as Note 6/Ch. 5]
3. 14:32, 16:12, 67:15. [Note 1/Ch. 10]
The Qur’an expounds a comprehensive protocol on drafting business contracts and commercial transactions in one of its longest passages (2:282/283) that covers the following elements:
Drafting of a contract by the recipient of a loan, or his agent.
Witnessing of a contract by two other men, or, if two men are not available, by one man and two women.
Putting dates, and stating the contract period on the contract.
Exhortation to the witnesses to turn up for testimony when called.
Forbidding harassment of a scribe or a witness
Permission for hand-to-hand transaction without documentation.
Approval of a security against a loan.
Responsibility of the trustee to honestly discharge his trust.
The passage is fashioned in terse juristic manner, but the foregoing summary may help in understanding the following rendition without difficulty.
“You who believe, whenever you contract a debt for a certain period of time, record it: have a scribe write down justly (the terms agreed) between yourselves. The scribe should not refuse to write - he should write as God has taught him.
Let the borrower dictate (the terms of the contract,) but let him heed God, his Lord, and not diminish anything from it. If the borrower is feeble-minded, or infirm, or unable to dictate, let his guardian dictate justly.
Get the witness of two witnesses from your men. If two men are not (available), then (take) a man and two women from among those, you approve of as witnesses - so that if one of them errs, the other may remind her. Let the witnesses not refuse (to respond) when called on (for evidence).
And be not averse to recording (any transaction), small or large, with its due dates. This is more just before God, more valid as a testimony, and a more likely (way of) to avoiding doubts, except for on-the-spot transaction that you pass around among yourselves, when there is no blame on you if you do not write it.
And have witnesses whenever you engage in trade, and let no scribe or witness be harassed: if you do so, it will be immoral of you. So heed God, for it is God that teaches you. (Remember,) God is Cognizant of everything” (2:282).
“If you are on a journey and cannot find a scribe, a deposit (may suffice) as security.* If one of you should trust the other (with something) - let the trustee return his trust heeding his Lord. And do not hide any testimony, for whoever hides it, is a sinner at heart. (Remember,) God is Cognizant of what you do” (2:283). *[Arabic words for the underlined expression can also be rendered as: ‘pledges (may be taken) by hand.’]
The underlined Qur’anic injunction (2:282) to take two female witnesses for one male witness is often quoted by commentators as an indication or proof of a woman’s lower intellect. Such a conclusion from a single Qur’anic verse is misleading, as the Qur’an maintains its gender neutrality in all other witnessing situations, notably:
While handing back properties to orphans as they reach a matured age (4:6/Ch. 31.1).
Witnessing a will (5:106-107/Ch. 37).
Witnessing an alleged adultery (4:15/Ch. 36.2; 24:4/Ch. 36.4).
Witnessing the execution of a divorce (65:2/Ch. 34.2).
Historically, trading has been a predominantly male profession as it involved traveling across hazardous terrains and staying away from homes. Therefore, the general instruction is to take two male witnesses and if two of them are not available then one male and two female witnesses. This poses the question, whether the Qur’anic exceptional witnessing protocol must be regarded as binding for all times. We have to answer this from Qur’anic illustrations, as attempted below.
In the context of the revelation, the Qur’an was addressed to a given people at a given space-time bracket. Therefore, the Qur’anic precepts relating to the material aspects of life, such as employing hunting animals to catch birds (5:4/Ch. 25.2), traveling to the Ka‘ba on lean mounts,1 or employing cavalry2 in combat were specific to the era, and the same conceivably is the case with the witnessing requirement in the market place. But the Qur’an repeatedly asks Muslims to reflect, to reason and to understand, and calls for consultation in running the affairs of the community (3:159, 42:38/Ch. 42.1), and even in family matters (2:233/Ch. 34.5). It is thus clear that the Qur’an did not want the Muslims to stop dead in the track of civilization at the seventh century Arabia. It leaves space for progress – for changing the material and commercial paradigms with time. It was possibly for this reason that “Caliph Umar used to entrust a lady, Shaffa bint ‘Abdullah as an inspector over the market in Medina,”3 while there have been countless female professors and jurists in Islamic history who bestowed academic and juristic credentials to many men under their signatures. Thus if the progress of civilization removes the traditional barriers constraining women’s active participation in commerce, the Qur’anic specific witnessing requirement may be adapted for the changed circumstances.
3. Extracted from the article, On recognition of women in Islam by Khaled Abou El Fadl, featured on the following web-link:
In pre-Islamic Arabia, many edible things were either reserved only for men, or prohibited as food by prevalent taboos (Notes 4-6/Ch. 1). The Qur'an revokes these restrictions (6:145, 10:59).
“Say: ‘In all that has been revealed to me, I do not find anything forbidden to eat, if one wants to eat (something), unless it be carrion or blood poured out, or the flesh of the swine – for that is loathsome, or a sinful offering to anyone besides God. But if anyone is compelled (by necessity), without wanting to, or exceeding limits, then indeed your Lord is Most Forgiving and Merciful’” (6:145).
“Say: ‘Do you see, what God has sent down for you as sustenance? But you make (a part) of it forbidden and (a part) lawful?’ Say: ‘Has God given you permission, or you have forged a lie against God” (10:59)?
The Qur’an connotes the word akl with ‘eating’ (of food) as well as ‘availing of’ (2:168, 2:172/Ch. 23.4), and ‘consuming’ (2:188/Ch. 22.1). Therefore, its verb form kulu in the opening part of the verses 2:168 and2:172 (Ch. 23.4), and other complementary verses1 can be rendered as, ‘Eat of,’ and these verses would then read:
“O People! Eat of (kulu) all lawful and good things of what is in the earth …” (2:168).
“You who believe! Eat of (kulu) the good things We have provided for you…” (2:172).
Thus, the Qur’an allows as food all lawful (Haram) and good things, including all livestock (except swine) (5:1), what the hunting animals could be trained to catch, including all kinds of birds (5:4), and all marine creatures (5:96):2
“You who believe, fulfil (your) commitments. The grazing animals are made lawful to you (for food) - except those already announced, but game is unlawful when you are in the state of pilgrimage. Indeed, God commands what He wishes” (5:1).
“They ask you (O Muhammad,) what is lawful for them (as food). Say: ‘Lawful for you are (all) good things. As for those hunting animals, which you have trained by teaching them something of what God has taught you - eat what they catch for you, and mention the name of God over it. Heed God, for God is swift in reckoning’” (5:4).
“All water-game and its (other) eatables3 are lawful provisions for you as well as for the travelers, but land game is forbidden to you when you are in the state of pilgrimage. Heed God, to whom you shall be summoned” (5:96).
Furthermore, by assigning dual meaning (‘Eat of’ and ‘Avail of’) to the word kulu, the Qur’an combines the lawfulness of food with the lawfulness of income. Accordingly, the Prophet’s companions were extremely careful about lawfulness of the method of procurement of what they ate. Thus, there are reports about Abu Bakr and Umar throwing up perfectly Haram food items like milk, in revulsion, when they were not convinced of their right to consume it.4
Towards the concluding phase of revelation, the Qur’an declares:
“This day (all) good things are made lawful for you. The food of those to whom Scripture [Book] was given is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them; …” (5:5). [Full verse in Ch. 32.3]
The Qur’an however does not state what category of food of the people of other revealed religions is permissible for the Muslims. Scholars agree that food items consumed as found in nature, such as those of plant origin, milk, fish, eggs etc. are Halal for food, irrespective of their producer or grower, as no slaughtering nor any Qur’anic rite is involved in their cultivation or processing. As for the slaughtered animal, there has been a huge debate, and opinions remain divided to this day. However, it is worth noting that the Biblical teaching prohibits swine’s flesh, blood, and dead animal as food, and requires slaughtering of cattle invoking the name of God.5 Therefore the slaughtered animals of the People of the Book (Christian and Jews) could be lawful to the Muslims, if they observed their religious rites.
The Qur’an only forbids carrion, free flowing blood, swine’s flesh, and the meat of cattle consecrated to anyone other than God, or slaughtered without invoking God’s name (2:173, 5:3, 6:118/119).6 It also defines the unnatural circumstances of an animal’s death that would render its meat Haram (unlawful), and prohibits lottery (5:3).
“He has forbidden you carrion, blood, and swine’s flesh, and that which has been consecrated to anyone other than God. But if anyone is compelled, without willful disobedience, or exceeding limits - (there is) no sin upon him. Indeed God is Most Forgiving and Merciful” (2:173).
“Forbidden to you (for food) are carrion, blood, swine’s flesh, and that which has been consecrated to anyone other than God, and that (which has been killed) by strangling, or by a violent blow, or by a headlong fall or by being gored to death; or that which has been (partly) eaten by a wild animal - unless you (are able to) slaughter it; and that which is slaughtered before an idol, or divided up by drawing lots. (All) that is immoral. …. But if anyone is compelled by hunger, without deliberately sinning, God is indeed Most Forgiving and Merciful” (5:3).
“Eat of that over which God’s name has been invoked, if you believe in His messages (6:118). Why should you not eat (the meat) over which God's name has been invoked when He has explained to you what is forbidden to you, unless (you are) compelled? But there are many who mislead (others) by their whims, without (any) knowledge. Indeed your Lord knows best those who exceed limits” (6:119).
As food likes and dislikes are conditioned by local traditions and availabilities, the Qur’an circumvents local influences in a generic injunction allowing all good things, except those expressly prohibited (7:32):
“Say: ‘Who has forbidden the beautiful (gifts) (zinat) of God, which He has brought forth for His servants, and wholesome means of sustenance?’ Say: ‘They are, in the life of this world, for those who believe, (and) especially for them on the Day of Judgment.’ Thus do We explain the signs in detail for those who know” (7:32).
As Muhammad Asad comments,7 the verse indicates the Qur’an’s disapproval of any self-denial or asceticism that was traditionally associated with piety.
1. 5:88, 23:51.