Muhammed Yunus, New Age Islam
(Author of The Essential Message of Islam)
Given the skepticism against some aspects of the Qur’anic message highlighted by this writer, I would like to substantiate the claims by drawing on a duly authenticated recent Qur’anic exegetic work that is endorsed by al-Azhar al-Sharif.
It takes a few words to criticize and question the integrity of a discourse but may require yet another and perhaps bigger discourse to defend it against the criticism. For a Muslim, the matter of 'defense' becomes immensely important if the discourse focuses on the message of the Qur'an. I have therefore been prompted to post the following detailed rejoinder to the article published in New Age Islam earlier. It is a little longish, but given the urgency to highlight the egalitarian and universal dimension of its message, I hope, New Age Islam readers will appreciate the need for it.
The following list of the Qur’anic verses on i) exhortation to excel in good deeds, ii) repelling evil with good, iii) good deeds as the sole divine criteria for salvation/reward and iv) general exhortation on good deeds from the different periods of revelation (610-632) speak for themselves. The reader, however, must note that the flat rendering of Qur’an’s verses listed below appear highly repetitive as they all convey the same message, again and again. The Qur’an however juxtaposes its exhortations in a manner that is contextually, linguistically, and lyrically most harmonious and staggers them across the 23 year span of revelation (divided into Meccan and Medinite periods).
i) Exhortation to excel in good deeds:
“Everyone has a goal to which he turns: so vie (with each other) in goodness, (and remember,) wherever you may be, God will bring you together. Indeed God has power over all things” (2:148).
“...For each of you We have made a (different) code (shir‘ah), and an open way (of action) (minhaj). 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).
ii) Repelling evil with good.
“Those who patiently seek the Countenance of their Lord, keep up prayer and spend out of what We have provided them, secretly or publicly and repel evil with good – such will attain the eternal life” (13:22).
“Repel evil with that which is good. Indeed We are aware of what they are working (in their minds)” (23:96).
“Goodness and evil are not equal. Therefore repel the latter with that which is good, and then the one between whom and you is hatred, will indeed become your friend (41:34). None can attain this except those who show perseverance; and none can attain this except the very fortunate” (41:34).
iii) Good deeds as the sole divine criteria of reward.
“Those who believe, and those who are Jews, Christians and Sabians - and (in fact) anyone who believes inGod 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).
“Indeed! Anyone who submits his whole self to God and is a doer of good - will get his reward from his Lord. They have nothing to fear nor will they regret” (2:112).
“Anyone - be it a man or a woman, who does good deeds, and is a believer in God – it is these that shall enter the Garden and will not be wronged at all” (4:124).
“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).
“On the day that God assembles you - the Day of Assembly, that is the Day of reckoning; and anyone who believes in God and does good deeds, He will efface his evils from him and admit him into Gardens watered by streams - to live in it forever: that will be a supreme triumph” (64:9).
“The Messenger conveys to you clear messages from God, so that he may bring forth those who believe and do good deeds from darkness into Light, and anyone who believes in God and does good, He will admit him into Gardens watered by streams; to live in it forever. God has indeed made for him a generous provision” (65:11).
iv) General exhortation on good deeds from the different periods of revelation (610-632 CE) – to avoid bulk, only a part of the verses are listed and the others are referenced, as complementary verses.
Early Meccan Period (610-615 appr.)
“Indeed, the heedful (muttaqin) shall be in shades and springs (77:41), and (will have) fruits as they desire (42). (It will be said to them): ‘Eat and drink to (your) satisfaction for what you did (43). Thus do We reward the compassionate’” (77:44).
“By this City of Security (95:3), Indeed We have created human being in the finest model (ahsani taqwim) (4), but then We debased him to the lowest of the low (5) - except those who believe and do good deeds: theirs is a reward unending” (95:6).
“Man is indeed at a loss (103:2), except those who believe and do good deeds, and exhort to truth, and exhort to patience” (103:3).
Other complementary verses: 84:25, 85:11, 99:7/8.
Mid and late Meccan Period (615-622 AD appr.)
“Those who believe and do good deeds and feel humble before their Lord – it is they (who are) the inmates of the garden, and they will remain there” (11:23).
“This Qur'an guides to that (which is) upright, and gives good news to the believers who do good deeds that theirs is a great reward” (17:9).
“He will reward those who believe and do good deeds: it is these that shall have forgiveness and a noble provision” (34:4).
“You will see (O Muhammad,) wrongdoers fearing on account of what they have earned, and it must befall them; and those who believe and do good deeds shall be in the meadows of gardens: they shall have anything they please from their Lord - that will be a great grace” (42:22).
Other complementary verses: 7:42, 10:4, 10:9, 10:26, 13:29, 14:23, 18:2, 18:30, 18:107/110, 19:59/60, 19:76, 19:96, 20:75, 20:112, 21:94, 28:67, 28:80, 29:7, 29:9, 29:58, 30:14/15, 30:44/45, 31:8, 32:19, 34:37, 35:7, 38:28, 39:10, 39:33/34, 40:58, 41:8, 41:33, 41:46, 42:26, 45:15, 45:21, 45:30, 67:2.
Medinite Period (622-632 AD)
“As for those who believe and do good deeds, He will grant them their reward in full. (Remember,) God does not love the wrongdoers” (3:57).
“God has promised those who believe and do good deeds that they shall have forgiveness and a great reward” (5:9).
“God will admit those who believe and do good deeds into gardens with streams running past. Surely God does anything He wishes” (22:14).
“God has promised those of you who believe and do good deeds that He will make them successors on earth, as He made successors before them, and that He will establish for them their religion which He has chosen for them, and that He will change their (state of) fear into (one of) security: they shall serve Me (alone) and not associate (others) with Me - and whoever is ungrateful after this, it is they who are perverse” (24:55).
Other complementary verses: 2:25, 4:57, 4:122, 4:173, 22:23, 22:50, 22:56, 22:77, 47:2, 47:12, 98:7.
The following Qur'anic verses indicate its profound emphasis on justice:
(God has made it haram that you) “Do not approach the property of an orphan before his full maturity - except for its betterment, give full measure and (use) true scale: We do not task a soul beyond its capacity; and when you speak, uphold justice even if it concerns a relative, and fulfill the covenant of God.’ Thus does He instruct you that you may be mindful (6:152)
“Say: ‘My Lord has commanded justice (qist), and that you set your whole selves (to Him) at all your prostrations* (in prayer) and call on Him with sincerity of faith. (Remember,) as He (brought you forth) in the beginning, so shall you return (to Him)’” (7:29). *[Lit., ‘places of worship’.]
“God commands justice (‘adl) and goodness and giving to fellowmen, and He forbids the abominable, the evil, and terrorism, and instructs you that you may be mindful” (16:90)
“God commands you to return (what is under your) trust back to their folk; and to judge with justice (‘adl), when you judge between people (nas). Noble indeed is what God instructs you for surely God is Observant and Aware” (4:58).
“You, who believe, be upright as witnesses to justice (qist) before God – even it be against yourselves, or (your) parents or relatives, or whether it concerns the rich, or the poor. God can best protect both. Therefore do not follow (your) whim, lest you detract from justice (‘adl); and if you swerve, or decline (to do justice), (remember,) God is Informed of what you do” (4:135).
“You, who believe, be upright before God as witnesses to justice (qist), and let not the hatred of any people prompt you to detract from justice (‘adl). Deal justly: this is nearest to heedfulness (taqwa); and heed God. Surely God is Informed of what you do” (5:8).
3. FAIR BUSINESS PRACTICES.
Verse 6:152, listed under Justice (above) places tampering of weight and measure that in today’s context implies fraudulent manipulation of wealth in the haram category. The Qur’an further expands it message on this theme in these verses.
“Do not unjustly consume others’ wealth*, nor try to bribe the authorities with it, that you may viciously but knowingly consume a portion of (other) people’s wealth” (2:188). *[Lit., ‘your wealth among yourselves’.]
“You who believe, do not live off usury (riba), (and have your wealth) doubled and multiplied, but heed God, that you may succeed” (3:130).
“You who believe, do not consume others’ wealth* - not even by way of trade with mutual consent, and do not kill yourselves for indeed God has been merciful to you (4:29). But whoever does that maliciously and unjustly, We shall soon cause him to endure fire, and that is easy enough for God” (4:30). *[Lit., as in 2:188 above.]
“And give full measure when you measure out, and weigh with straight scales. This is better and fairer in the end” (17:35).
“Give full measure, and be not among cheaters (26:181). Weigh with straight scales (182), and do not diminish the goods of (other) people (by under-weighing them), and do not act wickedly on earth as corruptors” (26:183).
“What you invest in usury (riba) that it might increase through the wealth of (other) people, does not increase with God; but what you give as zakat, seeking God’s favor* (increases with God), and it is they who shall have (their reward) multiplied” (30:39). *[Lit., ‘Face’.]
“Woe to the cheaters (83:1) – who demand full (measure) when they receive by measure from people (83:2) - but when they measure out for them, or weigh for them, cheat (them)” (83:3).
Note: The Qur’anic commandments to maintaining the integrity of weights, measurements and scales in commercial transactions is aimed at ensuring fair payment for goods and services.
4. SHARING WEALTH WITH THE NEEDY/ SOCAL RESPONSIBILITY.
The following direct exhortations on spending money for or sharing wealth with the needy are undeniable testimony to its emphasis on social responsibility.
The very opening passage of the Qur’an declares:“ (The Qur’an guides the heedful) – those who believe in the unseen, keep up prayer and spend of what We have given them”(2:3).
“Spend in God's way, yet do not expose yourself to ruin through your own hands, and do good – for indeed, God loves the compassionate” (2:195).
“Who is it that will lend God a generous loan, which He will multiply for him many folds? (Remember,) God can take away as well as give in abundance, and you (all) will (eventually) return to Him” (2:245).
“You, who believe, spend of what We have given you before there comes a Day in which there will be no bartering, no friendship, and no intercession; and as for the disbelievers - they are the unjust” (2:254).
“Those who spend their wealth in God’s way, and do not follow up on what is spent with reproach or with abuse - for them, their reward is with their Lord - there will be no fear upon them, nor shall they grieve. Kind words and forgiveness are better than an act of charity followed by abuse. (Remember,) God is Self-Sufficient and Gracious (2:263). You, who believe, do not nullify your charity by reproach or abuse, like someone who spends his wealth only to be seen in public - while he does not believe in God, nor in the hereafter. His example is that of a boulder with some soil on it; when rainstorm strikes it, leaves it barren: they can do nothing with whatever they have earned. (Remember,) God does not guide the disbelieving people” (2:264).
“You, who believe, spend (in charity) of the good things you have earned, and from what We have produced for you from the earth. Do not choose the bad things from it for your spending, that you would not take except with disdain; and know that God is Self-Sufficient and Praiseworthy” (2:267).
“And whatever you may spend (in charity) or promise you swear, surely God knows it; but there are no helpers for the unjust (2:270). If you (give in) charity openly, it is fine, but if you keep it secret and give it to the needy, it is even better for you, and it will atone for some of your sins. (Remember,) God is Informed of what you do (271). It is not up to you (O Muhammad,) to guide them, since God (alone) guides whom He wills. Whatever you spend for a good (cause) is for yourself - as you do not spend but to please God - and whatever you spend for a good (cause), shall be repaid to you in full, and you shall not be wronged” (2:272).
“Those who spend their wealth (in charity) - night and day, secretly and openly - they have their reward with their Lord: there will be no fear upon them nor shall they grieve” (2:274).
“You can never acquire virtue (birr)* unless you spend (in charity) what you care for. (Remember,) whatever you spend – surely God remains Cognizant of it” (3:92). *[Lit., ‘moral excellence’]
“Charities are for the fuqara (needy Muslims’) and the masakin (needy of any faith) and the workers (who administer) them, and for those who have embraced faith*, and for (freeing) the slaves, and for (assisting) debtors, and (for spending) in God's way, and for the traveler (ibn al-sabil) – an ordinance (faridah) from God. (Remember,) God is All-Knowing and Wise” (9:60). *[Lit., ‘whose hearts have reconciled’.]
“Let not the resourceful among you who have abundance swear not to give to relatives, needy, and those who fled along God’s way. Let them forgive and overlook. Don’t you like that God should forgive you? (Remember,) God is Most Forgiving and Merciful” (24:22).
“You, who believe, let neither your wealth nor your children distract you from God’s remembrance. Those who do so – it is they who will be the losers (63:9). So spend (in charity) out of what We have given you before death comes to any of you, and he says: ‘My Lord, why not grant me delay for a short while that I give in charity and be among the righteous’” (63:10).
“Heed God as best you can, listen, obey and spend (in charity) for your own good. And anyone who curbs his inborn greed – it is they who shall succeed (64:16). (Remember,) if you give a generous loan to God, He will multiply it for you, and forgive you, for God is Appreciative and Gracious” (64:17).
5. GOOD INTERFAITH RELATIONS
The following verses from the concluding phase of the revelation, read in conjunction with its verses on the universal criteria for divine judgment listed under Good Deeds above indicate its vision of a multi-religious society with members of each faith community vying with others in goodness to earn divine mercy on the day of final reckoning:
“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, and chaste women from among those (who have been) given the Scripture [Book] 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)
“We have revealed to you this divine Writ (kitab) setting forth the truth, confirming (whatever) remains of the divine writ (sent earlier), and determining what is true in it. Therefore, judge between them by what God has revealed, and do not follow their whims after what has come to you of truth. For each of you We have made a (different) code (shir‘ah), and an open way (of action) (minhaj). 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 communities* for you to get to know each other. The noblest among you near God are those of you who are the most heedful (atqakum). Indeed God is All-Knowing and Informed” (49:13). *[Lit., ‘tribes’]
Even at earlier stage of the revelation, the Qur’an had declared:
“You who believe, whenever you campaign in God's way, be discerning and do not say to anyone who offers you peace: ‘You are not a believer’ - seeking worldly gains (by exploiting him), for there are plenty of gains with God. (Remember,) you were like them before - till God favored you. Therefore be discerning. Indeed God is Informed of what you do” (4:94).
“Don’t insult those whom they invoke besides God, lest they ignorantly insult God in enmity. Thus We have made their action seem pleasing to every community; then their return is to their Lord, and He will tell them what they had been doing” (6:108).
6. RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE
The Qur’an forbids any compulsion in religion (2:256, 50:45, 88:21/22), and asks the Prophet not to compel people because if God so wished, everyone on earth would have believed (10:99).
“(There is) no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clearly from falsehood; so whoever rejects false deities and believes in God, has grasped a firm handhold, which never breaks. (Remember,) God is All-Knowing and Aware” (2:256).
“If your Lord so willed, everyone on earth would have believed, all together. Will you then compel people until they become believers” (10:99)?
“We know best what they say; but you (O Muhammad,) are not to force them. So remind with the Qur'an those who fear My warning” (50:45).
“So remind (them, O Muhammad) – for you are one who reminds (88:21); and have no power over them” (88:22).
Concluding Remark: One must make a clear distinction between the tenets of the Qur’an and the rulings of the classical Islamic Sharia. The later evolved in an era (early centuries of Islam) when the world was divided in religious lines, and religion was interpreted to support the historical context of the era, which for Islam characterized dynastic rule, military expansionism, abhorrence of dissent in any form, entrenched patriarchy, slavery, religious bigotry etc. – notions that detract from or contradict the Qur’anic message as preserved in its pages. The normal Islamic discourses identify the classical Islamic Sharia with the eternal Qur’anic message and in doing so they pin it down to a historical context that is more than a millennium old and not relevant any more except in some fundamental areas (personal, inheritance laws for example). Thus, both Muslims and non-Muslims would be tempted to doubt the claims that the writer made on the strength of the Qur’an. It is hoped this detailed rejoinder clears the matter. Those who seek further clarifications can consult ‘The Essential Message of Islam,’ available in India.