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Debating Islam ( 20 Nov 2017, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The Nuances of Quranic Diction


By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam

21 November 2017

In the discussions on the meaning of Kafir, what came out clearly is that people are insensitive to the different ways in which Allah addresses different people, and what is true for the believers in the Quran, is held by them to be equally true for the disbelievers. This is not simply being insensitive to the nuances, but completely ignoring the relevant verses that address different people differently.

Consider the following verses:

(33:72) We did indeed offer the Trust to the Heavens and the Earth and the Mountains; but they refused to undertake it, being afraid thereof: but man undertook it;- He was indeed unjust and foolish;-(73) (With the result) that Allah has to punish the Hypocrites (Munafiqin), men and women, and the Unbelievers (Mushrikin), men and women, and Allah turns in Mercy to the Believers (Muminin), men and women: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

The punishment and rewards are after undertaking the trust which means after believing or after rejecting belief from knowledge and in arrogance. What is clear is that if man had not been foolish and unjust to himself and refused the trust of becoming vice-regent of God on this earth, there would have been no messengers, no revelations, no punishments for hypocrisy or polytheism etc. Man would have lived like any other creature on the earth without knowing the criteria of right and wrong.

Once God has sent His messengers and His revelations, it becomes incumbent upon God then to punish/reward man by judging his deeds in the light of the guidance provided through the revelations. Without the revelations, there is no believer, unbeliever, or hypocrite or punishment for the sins of Kufr, Shirk, Nifaq etc.

It is easy to understand now, that Kufr is relative to the message received. For example, observing the Sabbath was prescribed to the followers of Moses and not to other people. For Muslims, since there is no Sabbath, there cannot be Kufr through violation of the Sabbath and punishment for it. We know from the Quran, that the Jews were punished in a very exemplary manner in this world itself for violating their Sabbath.

The Jews are asked to follow Jesus (pbuh), because doing so, they are relieved from some of their burdens such as observance of Sabbath and the stricter dietary restrictions for them imposed earlier as a punishment.

(4:160) For the iniquity of the Jews We made unlawful for them certain (foods) good and wholesome which had been lawful for them;- in that they hindered many from Allah´s Way;-

(3:50) "´(I have come to you), to attest the Law which was before me. And to make lawful to you part of what was (Before) forbidden to you; I have come to you with a Sign from your Lord. So fear Allah, and obey me.

Similarly, the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) are asked to follow Muhammad (pbuh) as he also “releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them”

(7:157) "Those who follow the messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (scriptures),- in the law and the Gospel;- for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure); He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honour him, help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him,- it is they who will prosper."

The Jews and the Christians have a choice to follow their own scriptures and remain under the burdens imposed on them and be judged by those laws.

The Arabs were the last of the civilized/urbanized world to be sent a messenger. The rest of the civilized/urbanized world were already People of the Book.

5:48 “…..To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute;”

The different people will be judged by the law prescribed for them. What applies to the People of the Book but is ignored by them is contained in the Quran and what applies to mankind in general and may be ignored through corruption of their religion is also contained in the Quran.

The Quran addresses different groups differently. The different groups are:

1.       The believers in the Quran and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

2.       The Jews or the Bani Israel

3.       The People of the Book (Jews and Christians together)

4.       The Children of Adam or all of mankind

The sins for a believer in order of rank are:

1.       Associating partners with God or ‘shirk’ is an unforgivable sin (4:116) and is kufr of belief

2.       Consumption of usury, not giving charity according to one’s means, giving charity but only to show off or with insult or neglecting Salat makes one an ingrate rebel against God and is Kufr by deed. These make a person a Kafir for their ingratitude deserving to be cast into Hell in the Hereafter

3.       Shameful deeds, adultery, fornication etc

4.       Dietary and other prohibitions such as playing games of chance.

For the People of the Book, it follows the same pattern as for the believers. The Christians believe that Jesus is son of God and in the concept of Trinity which is both Shirk and Kufr. Will they all go to Hell because of it? The answer is no for those who do so in good faith but yes for those who recognize that this is shirk and Kufr and yet do it. This is discussed in more detail in my article:

Is the Quran a Book of Contradictions?

The conclusion that we draw is that even corrupted scriptures if followed in good faith and without knowing what is false, entitles a person for forgiveness.

What about the Rest of Mankind?

(7:33) Say (to the Children of Adam): the things that my Lord hath indeed forbidden are: shameful deeds, whether open or secret; sins and trespasses against truth or reason; assigning of partners to Allah, for which He hath given no authority; and saying things about Allah of which ye have no knowledge.

Shirk is among the things that are forbidden but not an unforgivable sin for those who indulge in it from lack of knowledge. The following caveat applies to those who reject the messenger Muhammad (pbuh) with arrogance rather than not accepting from lack of knowledge:

(35) O ye Children of Adam! whenever there come to you messengers from amongst you, rehearsing My signs unto you,- those who are righteous and mend (their lives),- on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve.(36) But those who reject Our signs and treat them with arrogance,- they are companions of the Fire, to dwell therein (for ever).(37) Who is more unjust than one who invents a lie against Allah or rejects His Signs? For such, their portion appointed must reach them from the Book (of decrees): until, when our messengers (of death) arrive and take their souls, they say: "Where are the things that ye used to invoke besides Allah?" They will reply, "They have left us in the lurch," And they will bear witness against themselves, that they had rejected Allah. (38) He will say: "Enter ye in the company of the peoples who passed away before you - men and Jinns, - into the Fire."

In the discussions, people were quoting verses that simply do not apply to the Mushrikin. For example:

(31:13) Behold, Luqman said to his son by way of instruction: "O my son! join not in worship (others) with Allah: for false worship is indeed the highest wrong-doing."

This verse is no different from 4:116 which makes shirk an unforgivable sin for the believers. Luqman is a believer instructing his son correctly. It cannot be applied to all the “disbelievers” just as 4:116 cannot be applied to them. What can be applied to all the “disbelievers” is 7:33 with the caveat.

Consider the following verse in which Prophet Yaqub is addressing his sons:

12:87 “……truly no one despairs of Allah´s Soothing Mercy, except those who are from among the Kafirun."

The demand of Taqwa is to be careful not to cross the line. One may therefore draw the lines in a stricter manner than permissible for oneself, for our children, or for those who are our followers. Despairing of Allah’s mercy is a sign of lack of faith in Allah and a sign of Kufr. Does it however make one a Kafir? While showing patience and keeping hope in Allah’s mercy is a sign of faith, expressing despair when severely tested is what even the Messengers did as is clear from the following verse:

(2:214) Or do ye think that ye shall enter the Garden (of bliss) without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? they encountered suffering and adversity, and were so shaken in spirit that even the Messenger and those of faith who were with him cried: "When (will come) the help of Allah?" Ah! Verily, the help of Allah is (always) near!

It is the job of the Fuqaha to make these distinctions, but they act more like Prophet Yaqub (AS), and interpret everything for all of mankind, in a stricter manner than permissible, and perhaps think that doing so makes them Muttaqi or better believers. Prophet Yaqub (AS) was right in the context of his advice to his sons, but the same may not hold if applied to every believer, and even less if applied to all of mankind.

If people act in good faith, and without negligence, or without rejecting what they come to know as the truth, the door of Allah’s forgiveness is open to them whether they are “believers” or “disbelievers”. As to the question whether all the Mushrikin are Kafirin or not, the simple test is to substitute Mushrikin for Kafirin in any verse of the Quran, and discover the contradictions that this leads to. There cannot be a better proof than this, that not all the Mushrikin are Kafirin in any verse of the Quran. Why are people then reluctant to accept it? It is because of our Fuqaha who have made shirk such a dreaded word in their anxiety to ensure that the believers remain well with the limits that our minds refuse to accept that if the same strict rules are applied to other people, it would be unjust. Let us not continue to blaspheme God by refusing to recognize and accept the differences as divinely ordained. Let us not judge everyone by the yardstick that applies only to us.

Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He is a frequent contributor to


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