By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009
A dad who compliments ten times but admonishes once is not necessarily a bad guy. The son must judge him on his lifetime dealings. The same is true of a scripture like the Qur’an revealed over a span of 23 years (610-632). Its holistic message cannot be reduced to merely few verses, notably 2:120, 5:51 and 5:57 which are unsympathetic to the Christians and Jews. The verses read:
“The Jews and the Christians will not approve of you (O Muhammad) unless you follow their creed. Say, “God’s guidance is the guidance.” Should you follow their desires, after the knowledge that has come to you, you will have in God neither guardian nor helper.
“You who believe, do not take the Jews and Christians for your allies (awliya’): they are but the allies (awliya’) 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).
“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).
These verses date from a period (624-628 or thereabout) when the native Jewish tribes in Medina were conspiring and allying with Muhammad’s Meccan enemies to destroy his growing community of converts by external attack and internal rebellion. Thus, they were specific to a context. 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.
“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).
These pronouncements apart, the Qur’an furnishes further illustrations of its regard and esteem for the Christians and Jews.
It recognizes that some among the Christians and Jews were very pious, righteous and moderate:
“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).
“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).
“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 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.’]
It propounds universal criteria of divine judgment for all believing humanity (2:62, 5:69, 22:17), expressly mentioning the Christians and the Jews.
“Those who believe, and those who are Jews, Christians and Sabians - and (in fact) anyone who believes in God and the Last Day, and does good deeds - shall have their reward with their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor will they regret” (2:62).
“Those who believe, and those who are Jews, Sabians and Christians - (in fact) anyone who believes in God and the Last Day, and does good deeds - they have nothing to fear, nor will they regret” (5:69).
“Those who believe, and those who are Jews, and Sabians and Christians and Magians (an ancient polytheistic creed) , 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).
Note: There are four more verses (4:124, 64:9, 65:11) promising reward to all believing humanity without express mention of any faith community that the inquisitive may look up in his copy of the Qur’an
It declares that God’s name is proclaimed regularly in monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques (22:40).
“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).
Towards the concluding phase of the revelation the Qur’an proclaims its vision of religious pluralism in clear and unambiguous terms:
“Every religious community (literally everyone) has a mode of worshipping God (literally, 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).
“…For each of you We have made a (different) code (shir‘ah), and an open way (of action). 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).
“O People! We have created you as male and female, and made you into races and religious communities (lit., ‘tribes) for you to get to know each other. The noblest among you near God are those of you who are the most heedful (morally upright). Indeed God is All-Knowing and Informed” (49:13).
In its concluding phase, the Qur’an also allows Muslim men to marry Christian, Jewish and any believing women (5:5).
“This day (all) good things are made lawful for you. The food of those to whom Scripture was given is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them; and so are chaste believing women (mu’minat), and chaste women from among those (who have been) given the Scripture before you - after you give them their dowers (and take them in wedlock) as chaste women, not in lewdness, nor as secret love-companions. Anyone who rejects faith (in God), his deed is in vain, and he will be among the lost ones in the hereafter” (5:5).
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 counseling, 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).
Thus, any generalization of the context specific Qur’anic verses 2:120, 5:51, 5:57 or any other verse/ passage for that matter to foment hatred against contemporary Christians and Jews and other confessional communities will be tantamount to distorting the message of the Qur’an.
Note of Caution. There are three categories of people today who are bent on giving a universal dimension to the above context specific verses of the Qur’an. I) Muslim terrorist outfits and Radicalized elements – a fractional though visible minority quote them to justify their violent agenda; ii) the Islamophobes/ anti-Islamic website, to justify their hatred and fear of Islam and iii) some among the immigrant Muslims in the West - averse to Qur’anic moral imperative and core paradigms (good deeds, excellence in lawful pursuits, moral and financial integrity, unremitting struggle for developing one’s potential, social justice, social responsibility, generosity, forgiveness, mercy, compassion; kindness to womenfolk, neighbors, all humanity for example) and obsessed by greed, consumerism and selfish aspirations - to justify their blatant denial of the Qur’anic message. There is a solitary verse on defense levy (9:29) and two on war booty (8:41, 33:27) that were completely in tune with the historical realities of the era and were integral to the economic order of the day are also at times quoted totally out of historical context to malign Islam.
There is no denying the fact that all branches of Islamic theological discourses - the Hadith, the Classical biography and the Classical Sharia of Islam that were drawn on oral accounts in circulation and first compiled at least a hundred and fifty years after the death of the Prophet contain materials that sound bizarre, purport to provoke sexuality, induce terrorism, foment inter-faith hatred, and stand deeply misogynist, scientifically untenable and self contradictory . These reflect the inevitable embellishments and accretions that occur in oral transmission of accounts and characterize the comparative theological discourses of all major religions. Those lethal and pernicious embellishment and accretions are neither mentioned in, nor supported by the Qur’an – the primary and ONLY divine scripture of Islam.
Defending the Hadith and its Compilers – the Great Imams who are sometimes misunderstood and even reviled
Oct. 08, 2012
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.