Books and Documents

Ijtihad, Rethinking Islam (03 Apr 2019 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Text and Context: Specifics of the Rules Would Be Different If the Qur’an Was Being Revealed To a Different Culture or In a Different Time

By Pamela K. Taylor

June 6, 2018

Qur'an: Surah Alaq, verses 1-5

The first verses of the Qur’an revealed to Prophet Muhammad, Surah Alaq, verses 1-5

The story of the Qur’an begins in Ramadan, 610 AD. Muhammad, who was not yet the Prophet Muhammad, was in the habit of meditating in a cave high on the hillsides surrounding Mecca. On one such occasion, the angel Gabriel came to him and told him to read. Muhammad replied that he could not read. Gabriel pressed him tightly and then commanded him again to Read, and Muhammad again said that he could not read. Gabriel pressed him against, and said:

Read! In the name of your Lord who created:

He created man from a clinging drop.

Read! Your Lord is the Most Generous

Who taught by the pen,

Taught man what he did not know. (96:1-5)

These verses marked the beginning of revelation. Muhammad didn’t know what to make of what was happening to him. He ran down the mountain, his heart beating wildly. He was so terrified of the experience, that he asked his wife Khadija to cover him up. After he calmed down, he told her what had happened and confided that he was afraid for himself, unsure whether his experience was true or if he was going mad. Khadjia reassured him that nothing ill could come to him, as he was a good man, known for upholding the ties of kinship, speaking truthfully, helping the poor and destitute, serving his guests generously and assisting those who had stricken by calamity. She also took him to her uncle Waraqa, a Christian monk, who agreed that Muhammad was indeed become a Prophet.

The second revelation came a few weeks later,

You, wrapped in your cloak,

Arise and give warning!

Proclaim the greatness of your Lord;

Purify yourself;

Keep away from all defilement;

Do not be overwhelmed and weaken;

But be steadfast in your Lord’s cause. (74:107)

These verses may refer to what happened after the first revelation or they may refer to the fact that when Muhammad saw the angel Gabriel again, he ran home frightened and once more begged Khadija to cover him up again.

Either way, practically from the beginning of revelation we see that the Qur’an is a book rooted in history, responding to the Prophet’s thoughts and actions, reacting to happenings in his life. While it presents many eternal lessons, it is also speaking into a context, directed at a particular culture, and addressing the events occurring at the time.

Time and again, as we read through the Qur’an we are reminded of this fact. The beginning of Chapter 80 scolds Muhammad for paying attention to important people and rebuffing a blind old man who wanted to learn more about the religion he had recently embraced. Chapter 3 discusses the believers’ behaviour during the battles of Badr and Uhud. Chapter 24 addresses those who slandered Aisha with accusations of adultery.

The commentary and explanations of the Qur’an that are currently popular almost exclusively focus on the eternal nature of the Qur’an, proclaiming that not only is its wisdom and spiritual guidance intended to uplift mankind forever, but that the individual rulings pertaining to the specific circumstances Muhammad encounter are also universal.

As a progressive Muslim, I question that approach to the Qur’an since the book is so clearly addressing a specific community in a specific historical context. I can’t help but think that the spiritual guidance, the general teachings about how to live a good life are eternal, but that the specifics of the rules would be different if the Qur’an was being revealed to a different culture or in a different time.

I mean, surely if the Qur’an came to today’s society, with our bent toward marital equality and our understanding of domestic violence, God wouldn’t advise spouses who aren’t getting along to resort to physical resolutions to disagreements? Surely in a society where familial bonds don’t extend much beyond the nuclear family, and men and women are both expected to be breadwinners, inheritance would be divided up more equally? And how about those draconian punishments for petty crimes? I have to think that things would be very different.

Ramadan brings this belief into sterling clarity for me. The verses about fasting times during Ramadan are unambiguous: “eat and drink until you can discern the white streak of dawn against the blackness of night.” (Surah Baqara, verse 160) Clearly, this verse is not universal. It does not take into consideration Muslims who live above the Arctic Circle where for several months of the year the sun never comes completely over the horizon, and other months it never sets, making fasting according to the rule impossible. Nor does it consider the impracticality of refraining from food and water when daytime lasts 18, 19 or more hours. The only possible conclusion is that that the injunctions about fasting times are meant specifically for the people of Mecca and Medinah, for their circumstances and situation, and were never intended to be rules for all places and times.

If this is true for something so fundamental as when and how to fast in Ramadan, a ritual that is one of the Pillars of Islam, how much more so for less consequential rules?

So what’s a modern Muslim to do? How do we know what is universal and good for all times and what applies specifically to Muhammad’s era? For starters, there are values in the Qur’an that are clearly universal – be mindful of God through worship; give freely in charity; be patient in the face of difficulties; stand for justice; speak honestly and bear true witness; uphold your obligations, contracts and oaths faithfully; keep ties with your kin; be kind to strangers and travellers; care for orphans and treat them well; uphold the brotherhood of all mankind; speak politely to others; count your blessings; use your brain to gain wisdom from the world around you and seek education; be modest in dress and speech; make peace whenever possible, etc. These principles always make good sense.

There are prohibitions that are also clearly universal. Don’t lie, steal, cheat, commit slander or murder, don’t think you’re better than anyone else because of your family, wealth, power, knowledge or prestige; don’t judge people for ways different than your own or for their shortcomings; don’t engage in casual or non-consensual sex; don’t bear false witness; don’t cut off your family; don’t become rigid or go to extremes, especially in religion.

That leaves the rest of the Qur’an’s teachings. As a progressive Muslim, I believe we need to understand the Qur’an and its teaching through the lens of the history into which it was revealed. We may come away with the same understanding we have always had, or we may come up with something new. We may continue to believe particular verses are applicable universally. Or we may decide that God would want something different from us today than what was applicable in the 7th century.

For instance, the verses that tell us “Do not take the disbelievers as friends and protectors instead of the believers” (3:28, 4:144) means something quite different when you understand it as a universal law and when you understand within its historical context. When that verse was revealed, the non-Muslims of Mecca had enacted a systematic campaign of terror that resulted in many Muslims fleeing to Ethiopia, after which they banished the remaining Muslims from Mecca and refused to trade with them, confiscating their homes and possessions. And once the remaining Muslim community moved to Medina, they engaged in open warfare with the intention of wiping out the entire Muslim community. Of course, you wouldn’t extend your friendship and trust to people who were trying to eradicate your whole community!

Compare that today where multiculturalism is celebrated across the globe, and Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, atheists, etc here in the west come together to feed poor people and build houses for the homeless, to support civil rights for all and struggle for a kinder, more just civilization. If the Qur’an had been revealed today, the exhortation might be “Do not take bigots and racists for friends over those who love all and do good works together.”

To be clear, I’m not talking about willy-nilly, picking over the Qur’an scooping up what you like and discarding what you don’t. I’m talking about, a systematic approach to understanding the Qur’an with reference to the events of the day and the milieu in which it was revealed and thus to understand not just the actual words, but also to grasp at the intention behind the verses, the intended outcomes, and to work to implement those in our own context and culture.

While this may seem like a huge departure from traditional theology and jurisprudence, the companions of the Prophet clearly saw the Qur’an and its teachings in this manner. For instance, Omar suspended punishments for theft mentioned in the Qur’an during a famine. Obviously, he understood that as circumstances change, so too should our understanding of the Qur’an. I am suggesting nothing more and nothing less.

Source: patheos.com/blogs/fortheloveofgod/2018/06/a-progressive-approach-to-the-quran/?utm

URL: http://newageislam.com/ijtihad,-rethinking-islam/pamela-k-taylor/text-and-context--specifics-of-the-rules-would-be-different-if-the-qur’an-was-being-revealed-to-a-different-culture-or-in-a-different-time/d/118214


  • You don't even have the sense to see that Pamela Taylor is not a critic of Islam but is someone who tries to adapt Quranic teachings to present times. Your claims of being better than her are laughable.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 4/17/2019 12:49:01 PM

  • You are digressing. Pamela only sees problems and not solutions and the fact that the guidance provided is adequate. 

     The fasting question is answered and I have also shown that verses  3:28, 4:144 actually mean what she wants these to be today.

     She and you GM sb, are the dumb literalists who only point fingers rather than talk about the correct meaning and how to find solutions. My more than hundred articles bring out the correct meaning before which every objection of the likes of Pamela K. Taylor and her ilk dissolve.

     Why the Reformist Scholars Cannot Make a Difference

    The Quran Is the Perfect, Infallible Word of God, Even If All the Muslims Misunderstand It

    By Naseer Ahmed - 4/17/2019 12:43:33 AM

  • Without seeing a problem, how is one going to find a solution? As I said before, "It is sad that you do not see the sense and wisdom in Pamela Taylor's article. It is Muslims like her who will save Islam, not slavish literalists like you."

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 4/16/2019 12:49:53 PM

  • My argument simply is:
    If my solution is described by you as "slavishly literalist" as you have done, then your solution is even more so.
    Therefore, if you are now saying that calling the solution "literalist" means that you do not know anything or that you are a congenital liar, this applies to you and not to me. You decide and tell us whether my solution and your solution are "slavishly literalist" or not.
    As for me, I have made it clear that it is a dumb literalist who sees a problem, and anyone with any good sense can find an answer and I have lauded you for once finding an answer and moved away from being a dumb literalist.

    By Naseer Ahmed - 4/16/2019 12:49:15 AM

  • Naseer sb.,
    If you think my solution was "literalist", it means that you either do not understand anything or you are a congenital liar.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 4/15/2019 12:54:52 PM

  • But I do give you full marks for your solution and I am glad that for once you behaved like a "slavish literalist" and came up with a solution rather than find fault with the Quran.

    As a matter of fact, you proved to be more slavish in your solution because you take into account the Mecca timings for the fast while I ignore it tailoring the solution to the convenience of the person fasting and his/her usual time for breakfast and supper.

    By Naseer Ahmed - 4/15/2019 3:47:54 AM

  • Naseer sb.,
    As I said, your solution makes no sense. It is sad that you do not see the sense and wisdom in Pamela Taylor's article. It is Muslims like her who will save Islam, not slavish literalists like you.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 4/13/2019 12:27:22 PM

  • Good GM sb. So, there is a solution. I am glad I forced you out of your "dumb literalism" into my kind of "slavish literalism". It does not matter what solution is implemented as long as you believe there is a solution and implement the same. There is no need for your solution to be the same as mine but there must be a solution. Do not however blame the Quran for not providing sufficient guidance to find your own solution. There is sufficient guidance.
    By Naseer Ahmed - 4/13/2019 7:28:55 AM

  • She describes the problem about fasting times in Arctic regions. Any commonsense solution could be implemented, but for a slavish literalist this may not be possible!
    Among commonsense solutions, if one is living in an area where dawn and sunset do not occur, one can consider following  the fasting hours in the nearest city where fasting is observed at dawn and sunset. Alternatively, Muslims may follow Mecca time.
    The "solution" offered by you makes no sense at all.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 4/12/2019 12:28:03 PM

  • What is your solution to the problem of determining the fasting time in Polar Regions GM sb?
    You do not have a solution and neither has the author because both are dumb literalists and happy with finger pointing at the Quran rather than finding a logical solution.
    You do not appreciate the logical solution presented either! Is that because you do not care for fasting?
    By Naseer Ahmed - 4/12/2019 3:38:36 AM

  • It is idiotic to say that she is criticizing the Quran. She is criticizing slavish literalism which is Naseer sb.'s hallmark, as seen in his lengthy note on fasting.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 4/11/2019 4:56:36 PM

  • The only example that supports the title is relating to the timings of a fast during Ramadan which cannot be determined based on the time of dawn/sunrise and sunset in Polar Regions or close to Polar Regions. Let us examine the verses of the Quran relating to fasting:

    (2:183) O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint,-

    (184) (Fasting) for a fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed number (Should be made up) from days later. For those who can do it (With hardship), is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent. But he that will give more, of his own free will,- it is better for him. And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew.

    (185) Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur´an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting, but if any one is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (Should be made up) by days later. Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful.

    (187) Permitted to you, on the night of the fasts, is the approach to your wives. They are your garments and ye are their garments. Allah knoweth what ye used to do secretly among yourselves; but He turned to you and forgave you; so now associate with them, and seek what Allah Hath ordained for you, and eat and drink, until the white thread of dawn appear to you distinct from its black thread; then complete your fast Till the night appears; but do not associate with your wives while ye are in retreat in the mosques. Those are Limits (set by) Allah: Approach not nigh thereto. Thus doth Allah make clear His Signs to men: that they may learn self-restraint.

    (189) They ask thee concerning the New Moons. Say: They are but signs to mark fixed periods of time in (the affairs of) men, and for Pilgrimage. It is no virtue if ye enter your houses from the back: It is virtue if ye fear Allah. Enter houses through the proper doors: And fear Allah: That ye may prosper.

    (6:96) He it is that cleaveth the day-break (from the dark): He makes the night for rest and tranquillity, and the sun and moon for the reckoning (of time): Such is the judgment and ordering of (Him), the Exalted in Power, the Omniscient.

    The reference to the sun and the moon in the Quran is for reckoning time which may be part of a day, a day, week, month or year. How else did we expect Allah to refer to time except by these signs? Did we expect Allah to talk about time in hours or any other unit of time created by man? The clock of man is also based upon dividing the time taken by the movement of the heavenly bodies into convenient units of seconds, minutes, hours, day, week, month, year etc. The time of  Sunrise and Sunset has no significance to fasting except setting the start time and end-time in regions around the equator.

    We order our life by the day for working and night for resting. Fasting is during the period of working. Even in Polar Regions, people order their life if not by the sun (because it does not rise for part of the year or set for another part of the year), by the clock. So follow the clock. Dawn which marks the beginning of fast in regions around the equator is 3 hours before our usual breakfast time. So in regions around the poles, begin fast 3 hours before the usual time for break-fast and end the fast at normal time for supper.

    If a person finds a solution based on such an analogy, he is a sincere Muslim who submits to the command of Allah and will be duly rewarded both for the fasting and his humble submission even when faced with a certain degree of uncertainty. The purpose of fasting which is to learn self-restraint is also met. We are not worshipers of the sun but we order our life consisting of a working period and period of rest by it for obvious reasons. Where we use other means to do the same thing, follow what is dictated by it in an analogous manner.

    As an exercise, attempt defining the period of fasting in a polar region without talking about a clock. It is very difficult if not impossible, but easy to talk about it in an analogous manner with reference to sunrise and sunset in a region around the equator. So, why would the Quran speak about the time of fasting in a polar region when it is easy for man to figure out for himself what is logical, reasonable and rational based on what is described for areas around the equator? What can be logically derived is as good as a verse in the Quran is what I have said several times before.

    The above is an example of being logical, rational and sensible but the author shows no sign of being so. 

    By Naseer Ahmed - 4/11/2019 2:03:14 AM

  • And GM sb simply loves any criticism of the Quran and will fight the correct understanding of the Quran because that deprives him the opportunity of running it down.

    He calls my saying Kafir does not mean disbeliever or even polytheist a rant while his insisting that it means disbeliever/polytheist is best described as a rant!

    By Naseer Ahmed - 4/11/2019 12:33:43 AM

  • If she is saying what the Quran is saying, then what's your problem? But if she is trying to bring rationality and common sense in Quranic teachings, that would make Naseer sb. hit the roof!

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 4/10/2019 12:22:16 PM

  • Does the author have a rational and sensible approach to fasting? She has a problem but does not speak about a rational or sensible solution.
    Are bigots and racists different from Zalim, Fasiq, Mufsid and Mujrim? The article that I have cited says exactly what the author wants the Quran to say but does not realize that it says so. So, if GM sb agrees with what the author says, what problem does he have in accepting that the Quran actually says what the author wants it to say? GM sb is a committed maligner of the Quran and his objective is not to take its correct meaning, but insist that the bigoted translations and opinions are the right ones so that he can discredit it.
    The Quran does contain verses that address the Prophet's thoughts, misgivings, etc., but the Quran is anything but a reflection of the Prophet's thoughts.
    By Naseer Ahmed - 4/10/2019 12:52:34 AM

Compose Your Comments here:
Email (Not to be published)
Fill the text
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the articles and comments are the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect that of NewAgeIslam.com.