By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam
14 April, 2015
Rashid Sb’s article on the same subject makes a profound observation:
“As in architecture, when reconstruction of a structure is undertaken, it brings in a change in it to the extent that a paradigm shift in the functional use of the redesigned structure occurs. The design follows the ‘form’ for the ‘function’of the new structure that is meant for. It often leaves no trace of the old building and its previous pattern of use.
Similarly Iqbal’s intellectual architecture for Islam highlights the potential of paradigm change that should occur when ‘Religious Thoughts’ in Islam are ‘Reconstructed’.”
Winston Churchill also said something very similar “In the beginning we shape our structures, thereafter, they shape us”. How true!
I have been lately working on some core issues in Islam and it started with how Pickthal understood the word kafir. He said “In the Qur’an I find two meanings (of a Kafir), which become one the moment that we try to realize the divine standpoint. The Kafir in the first place, is not the follower of any religion. He is the opponent of Allah’s benevolent will and purpose for mankind - therefore the disbeliever in the truth of all religions, the disbeliever in all Scriptures as of divine revelation, the disbeliever to the point of active opposition in all the Prophets (pbut) whom the Muslims are bidden to regard, without distinction, as messengers of Allah”.
This came as a surprise and I began my research by examining every single verse that uses the word or its grammatical variants. The analysis based on considering every single verse lead to some very dramatic conclusions. The discovery was that in verses that deal with the spiritual dimension or with Belief in God, Messengers, Scriptures and the hereafter, kafir has a fixed meaning of those who reject the “truth of the message brought by the messengers”. Even in the spiritual dimension, kufr is relative to the message or the shariat in the scriptures which is different for different people. In verses that deal with the temporal dimension “kafir” and “kufr” are faith neutral. Verses that relate to the temporal dimension explicitly describe the “kufr”. The term Kafaru then derives its meaning from the “kufr”. For example:
8:36 Verily, the kafaru spend their wealth to hinder (men) from the Path of Allah, and so will they continue to spend it;…..
8:38 Say to the Kafaru, if they cease/desist, their past will be forgiven. …..
From8:36, the kafaru are those who spend their wealth and efforts to hinder men from the path of Allah
The Kufr is religious persecution or hindering men from the path of Allah.
These verses deal with the temporal dimension and therefore faith or lack of it is irrelevant.
What they should desist from is then obviously their Kufr and what will be forgiven of their past is their Kufr which is defined above.
To translate Kafaru in 8:38 as:
8:38 Say to the disbelievers (Kafaru), if they cease/desist, their past will be forgiven. But if they return (thereto)….
is misleading since then to desist could be mistaken to mean to desist from disbelief and return thereto could mean return to disbelief. Even if we remove some of this confusion by saying
8:38 Say to the disbelievers (Kafaru), if they cease/desist (from persecution) their past will be forgiven......
the question arises why are all the disbelievers being addressed or being stereotyped by the acts of a few persecutors? Surely we do not expect that in the Divine Speech even a single disbeliever should be falsely accused or unnecessarily addressed.
The correct translation therefore is :
8:38 Say to the Religious Persecutors (Kafaru), if they cease/desist their past will be forgiven......
This is not only the correct meaning of the verse but by using faith neutral terminology the message gets universalized and applies equally to those who call themselves believer but practice religious persecution. Also there is no need to add in parenthesis what they should desist from or what from their past will be forgiven.
If this method is adopted, then many of the verses will appear in a different light altogether and much of the confusion and criticism will disappear. There is no need to contextualize most of these verses anymore.
With this discovery, it made sense to look at the verses of the Quran from the point of view of whether they deal with the spiritual dimension or the temporal dimension. Viewed this way, itlead to some remarkable insights. I discovered that the verses that deal with the temporal dimension are completely secular and even those that deal with Qital or fighting!
Also as it concerns the spiritual dimension, the Quran prescribes no punishment for any kufr whether it be rejection of belief or apostasy or blasphemy. The Quran also does not allow any coercive interference in the matter of faith. 2:256 “Let there be no compulsion in religion and 109:6 “To you (peaceful rejecter of faith) be your way and to me mine” are eternal principles. The only way open to proselytizing is persuasion.
Qital or fighting has nothing to do with faithalthough it is the “Momin” fighting against the “kafir”. In this context, Momin simply means the upholder of what is right and just and Kafir means the oppressor. Fighting is permitted only in the cause of Allah and the only cause for which fighting is permitted is against oppression (religious or otherwise)
For example, the Indian army liberated Bangla Desh by defeating the Pakistan Army which practiced great oppression on the people of Bangla Desh. The role that the Indian army played was of the Momin and the Pakistan played the role of the kafirin as it concerned the oppressed people of Bangla Desh.
(4:141) ….And never will Allah grant to the kafirin a way (to triumph) over the Mominin.
The Kafirin suffered a humiliating defeat and the verse 4:141 proves that in the temporal dimension both the words kafir and momin are faith neutral and a momin or kafir is defined by what a person does. A person who stands for justice is a Momin and one who stands for oppression is a Kafir.
There isn’t a single verse that talks of fighting for either:
1. The Faith
2. To End Disbelief
3. To Establish The Truth Of Islam
Many translators have however interpolated these meanings while translating or in their commentaries and made Qital “holy war” by mistranslating the word “jahadu” which simply means “strive” and not “strive for the faith”. A simple reference to the Arabic text makes clear that these are mere interpolations or imaginative interpretations.
The Quranic verses viewed afresh in this manner, take a completely different hue and the mistakes in translations and interpretations become noticeable and obvious. These “mistakes” are the mistakes of bigotry which is a universal trait. The mistakes are easily confirmed through a comparison with the Arabic verse. The Lord of all the worlds can now be seen in His true Light rather than through the heavy filters that we are accustomed to where He is reduced by the religious bigots to a parochial god of only the followers of Muhammad (pbuh)
I believe, using the framework of the spiritual and temporal dimensions to understand the verses of the Quran, greatly changes the way we perceive and receive the Message. Using this device, we see a completely different Universe from what we are accustomed to seeing. I am convinced this is how our Maker wanted us to understand His Word. This could result in far reaching changes in our perception of the religion. Change in perception leads to change in behavior which then leads to change in attitudes.
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 New Age Islam