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Debating Islam ( 18 March 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Why the Quran Needs To Be Brought Within the Ambit of History



By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam

19 March 2021

How should one understand the not so innocent utterings of Waseem Rizvi, who has been arguing that certain verses of the Quran should be removed as they promote enmity between religious groups and even terrorism? Rizvi has now moved the Supreme Court in the hope that the apex body will hear his grievances against a book revered by millions of Muslims worldwide. To be fair to him, he first sent his proposal to Muslim religious bodies and even Muslim universities in order to generate ask their response over the issue. But as expected, he did not get any reply. Part of the reason why it might be so is that since long, Rizvi has become untrustworthy within the community. Long back, he argued that madrasas should be shut down, without paying any heed to the futures of students therein. Moreover, he is seen as someone who, who wants to be close to the current political dispensation.

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Since anti-Muslim bigotry has become profitable in this country, anyone who wants to become someone, must at least appear to be exhibiting that characteristic. Long before this controversy erupted, Waseem Rizvi, was already viewed as a government appointed Fitna-Parast, i.e. someone who is charged with fomenting trouble and dissension within the Muslim community. However, the response of the community earlier and even now leaves much to be desired. Calling him names and issuing death threats do not serve any purpose but only strengthen the image of Islam as an intolerant religion. Those who are arguing that Rizvi should be stoned or beheaded are in fact proving him correct: that part of this fanaticism flows from the teachings of the Quran.

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Rizvi has highlighted 26 verses of the Quran which he wants to be edited out. In essence this would be tantamount to having a new Quran in place of the existing one. He has pleaded in the court that these verses were added by the first three Caliphs and hence should not be part of the divine text. Leaving out Ali, the fourth caliph, seems to be deliberate, and clearly Rizvi is building upon the Shia Sunni divide within the Muslim community. To his chagrin, most Shias in India have pointed out that Ali had no problem with the extant Quran and that in fact, he promoted it with the same vigor as was done by earlier three caliphs. In fact, the Shia and the Sunni are united in their condemnation of Rizvi and his attempt to find faults with the holy text.

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But certainly, if we leave aside the fact that it is Rizvi who has raised this issue, then there are questions that need to be asked about the Quran. Historically, the text was not compiled by the prophet of Islam but only during the reign of the third caliph Usman. There were multiple readings of the text which were extant at that time and the expanding empire wanted a singular monolithic reading in order to create an orthodox authority centered on the caliph. Muslim chroniclers have themselves noted that all other copies of the Quran were burnt on the orders of Usman. They also record that there were some authoritative figures who did not destroy their copies of the Quran which points to the fact that they might have had differences with Usman’s version of the Quran.

It is also true that during the time of Usman, Islam had already expanded beyond the Arabian Peninsula and many of those who had parchments of the Quran had settled in those places. Moreover, since Arabia was largely an oral culture, many Muslims had memorized fragments of the Quran. Many of those who had done so died during various conflicts which Muslims were engaged in this period. Thus, it cannot be said with any certainty that Usman included everything that was revealed and narrated by Prophet Muhammad. Muslim tradition themselves point out that at least on one occasion, one verse which was kept inside the house of the Prophet was eaten away by the goats! It is a big leap to believe that Usman’s text is the correct version of the Quran.

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One important reason why most Muslims came to regard the text as authoritative was because it served the needs of an expanding empire during the time. We are talking of a time when Muslims themselves were not sure of what Islam meant; a time when the religion was still nascent and evolving. There were dissensions and open rebellions against the rule of the caliphs and some Muslims had even refused to pay the Zakat after the death of the Prophet. We can see therefore why there would have been no consensus over what constituted the true Quran. Ultimately, the belief in the truth of Quran is more political than a matter of unwavering faith.

Allah has promised in the Quran that He will preserve it for posterity. Muslims believe that since God is the custodian, not a single letter has been misplaced or omitted during its compilation. They understand it to be akin to the word of God and hence attach a sacredness to it which is unparalleled in any other religion. Although Jews and Christians have their respective holy books, but they do not regard them as the very word of God but rather inspired by the Almighty. As such, they understand that a fair amount of human agency went into putting down those inspirational verses into different codices. Muslims, on the other hand elevate the Quran as the literal word of Allah which makes it nearly impossible to look at the text even mildly critically. And without a critical look at one’s own traditions, any society stagnates and eventually dies out.

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One of the important concerns of Quran scholars has been that the verses within it are not arranged chronologically. For the average reader, reading the Quran in this fashion does not make much sense as the context of the verses is completely lost. The mass of Muslims therefore read the Quran in order to earn religious merit rather than derive any sense of history from it. One of the first acts of Muslim scholars should therefore be to put the Quran in chronology which will then make much more sense to the lay reader.

A contextual reading of the Quran will also make it apparent that certain verses, which exhort Muslims to commit violence against the unbelievers, should no longer apply in the present times. There is no gainsaying in repeating that Quran promotes peace because clearly at certain places it does not. In this regard, the Muslim Quran is no different from other religious texts like the Old Testament. In the age of internet, it is impossible to hide the war time verses of the Quran and promote the lie that in its entirety, the text talks about peaceful co-existence. At many places, the text has an imperial tone and clearly states that Islam must become the master religion of the world.

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Those who are opposing Rizvi are also stating that those verses came in a specific context when Muslims were being persecuted. However, they do not take a step forward and declare that those verses no longer apply in the present context as the conditions have changed. Rather, the same set of the people have been arguing that the Quran is there for all eternity and that every verse of the text should be taken seriously as the very word of God. This duplicity of the Islamic scholars should be called out by well-meaning Muslims.

It is unfortunate that the context for the present discussion has been provided by Waseem Rizvi who is a known Muslim baiter. However, even without Rizvi, the constructed trans-historical nature of the Quran needs to be discussed. If Muslims do not take on this task themselves, there will always be another Rizvi ready to raise such issues for narrow political gains.

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Arshad Alam is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com  

URL:  https://www.newageislam.com/debating-islam/arshad-alam-new-age-islam/why-the-quran-needs-to-be-brought-within-the-ambit-of-history/d/124578


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