By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
10 October 2015
(Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009)
- This is the final follow up on Sultan Shahin Sahab’s call to create “a coherent theology of peace and pluralism, consistent in all respects with the teachings of Islam, and suitable for contemporary and future societies.”
There is a gross misconception among the Muslims that the Pillars of Faith are sufficient to cover the basic principles of Islam and total compliance with them amounts to fully meeting the basic requirements of the din of Islam.
The first pillar of faith is the belief in the unity of God and in Muhammad (Peace and God’s blessing be upon him) as God’s prophet, and can be rendered as follows:
‘I testify that there is no deity but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God.’
Most Muslims take the Shahadah, as a mere oral declaration, and regard the other four pillars - Salat (prayer), Zakat (traditionally, obligatory charity), fasting, and Hajj, as sufficient to cover all their religious rites and obligations. This is gross oversimplification because at the time of the Prophet, the commandments (Ahkamat) of the Qur’an were regarded as the sole criteria of one’s deeds ('Amal) . Moreover, except for the Zakat, none of the other Pillars relate to the ‘Huquq al Ibad’ category of Qur’anic message – its definitive commandments and liberating paradigms that relate to man’s duty to man and his personal intellectual rights. These include among other things, good and righteous deeds, Taqwa (awareness to one’s social, moral and ethical responsibilities – God consciousness in one word), upholding justice, sharing of wealth with the needy, responsibility to elderly parents, kindness to all humanity, business ethics, respect and empowerment of women as a maiden, wife and widow, abolition of slavery (in historical context), eschewing of all mental defilements (hatred and contempt of others, greed, prejudice, bigotry, gluttony and all forms of temptations, obsessions, addictions and excesses) - to showcase a partial view of the Qur’anic panorama of the Huquq al Ibad or rights and obligations of humans upon humans. Among the personal intellectual rights of man include his freedom of choice, to use his intellectual faculty, to acquire knowledge, to harness the resources of nature, to think, to probe to reflect, to cogitate and to wage an unremitting struggle for his personal upliftment and the welfare of the community and broader humanity.
The truth is the essence of the Qur’anic message lies in its ‘Huquq al Ibad’ - those that pertain to man’s duty and obligation to man and his right to use his intellectual faculty as elaborated above. The Pillars of Faith ONLY relate to man’s spirituality – his devotion to God and the Prophet –except for the Zakat which as mentioned earlier is man’s mandatory charity discharged via the state. Thus, if we define Islam as a religion based on the Pillars of faith we shed Islam of its all-encompassing package of ‘Huquq al Ibad’ and liberating paradigms that helped transform the marauding bands of nomadic Arabs of the Prophet’s era, perpetually locked in blood vendetta, into the founders and rulers of the most vibrant, creative, tolerant and scientifically advanced civilization of the ensuing historical corridor of half a millennium.
Hence, from a purely religious perspective, it is essential for the Muslims to realize that by conflating their religion with the Pillars of Faith, they have shed their religion of all its dynamic, liberating, enlightening and humanistic dimensions. Since the Pillars of Faith by themselves are hardly sufficient to provide theological narratives and doctrines for Islam, a highly ramified edifice of Islamic theology comprising the Hadith, the Sira, the Classical Sharia Law as well as rulings and consensus of scholars (Rai. Ijma) evolved in the early centuries of Islam to fill the gap created by sidetracking the pristine message of the Qur’an. As Moin Qazi, an eminent contemporary scholar of Islam puts in his recent review of the book, Modern Islamic Thought and Radical Age:
“It is time to clearly understand the pristine message of the Qur’an rather than reading it with the eye of its medieval era jurists, scholars and ideologues. There is an urgent need to understand the core message of Islam that remains buried under layers of medieval interpretation.”
His views are echoed by some of the great scholars of the last two centuries, namely, Syed al-Afghani (1838-1897), Shaykh Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905), Altaf Hussain Hali (1837-1914), Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898) and others.
Come this day, the Muslim mind has only ossified in its apathy against the Qur’anic message, while all scholarly attempts over the past two centuries to bring the Qur’anic message to the forefront of Islamic thoughts has been resisted or simply blocked by the clergy to the grievous detriment of the Muslims Umma. Speaking metaphorically, if the Qur’an were the proverbial phoenix that took the early Muslims to great heights, the orthodox Ulema have clipped its wings, chopped off its torso and enrobed the virtually dead body with layers upon layers of theological discourses causing it to stall to the ground plummeting the Muslim Umma down to the lowest depth in their civilisational course – a most ominous predicament reflected in the continued political and intellectual decline of Islam over the recent centuries and the terrible state of the Muslims in this era that hardly needs any elaboration.
The truth is the Qur’an’s liberating tenets and social, moral and ethical paradigms that constitute the rights of man (Huquq al Ibad) conflicted with the political ambitions of the rulers and their craving for wealth, power, glory, lavish Haram life and distinctive privileges. Thus, since early centuries of Islam, the dynastic rulers manipulated and even coerced the Ulema to obfuscate the egalitarian, humanistic, gender neutral and pluralistic message of the Qur’an that made it an eternal epitome of human rights (Huquq al Ibad). “According to a number of sources, Imam Abu Hanifa was imprisoned by Caliph al-Mansur (754 – 775) for defying him in religion. Imam Malik ibn Anas, the founder of another school of law was also flogged during his rule”.  Furthermore, as Islam entered new cultures and civilizations, it encountered customs and juristic norms that contradicted the Qur’anic paradigms. To accommodate them into Islam – a historical necessity for the era, the doctors of law declared: “Any Qur’anic verse which contradicts the opinions of ‘our masters’ will be construed as having been abrogated, or the rule of preference will be applied thereto. It is better that the verse is interpreted in such a way that it conforms to their opinion” . Pedagogic study of the Qur’an was also discouraged by citing a tradition that “one who discusses about the Book of God, (the Qur'an) makes a mistake, even if he is correct . These developments coupled with the reverential remoteness of the Qur’an as divine speech led to the relegation of the Qur’an to a purely liturgical text. Over time, this notion has been dogmatized in Islamic societies creating a diminutive version of Islam based on five pillars of faith, though as mentioned earlier, before the Prophet’s death (632), compliance with the definitive commandments (Ahkamat) of the Qur’an was one of the pillars of faith.
The bitter truth is, Islam, as interpreted through the “eye of its medieval era jurists, scholars and ideologues” offers a host of doctrinal benefits to its male clergy/ rich elite that no other civilization or religion of this era can boast. Thus, it accommodates sex-slavery, permits marriage with a minor girl, polygamy, beating and oppression of women in wedlock, various kinds of misogynic customs including honour killing; guarantees a running income as preaching Islam has now become a lucrative commercial profession. It also allows the rich to amass wealth by grossly underpaying the poor, by embezzlement, fraud and bribery and purify it by paying a petty two and half percent on only retained liquid asset. It also projects hajj as a means to have all sins forgiven, not mentioned in the Qur’an. Hence the clergy and the rich work hands in glove to resist any attempt to bring the Qur’anic message in the limelight. However, the Qur’an or for that matter Islam as a faith is not the personal property of its patriarchic and retrogressive Ulema and the corrupt and greedy rich. There is increasing awareness among a growing community of progressive and enlightened Muslims to the need to free Islam of its Medieval theological underpinnings, correct the misconception about the sufficiency of the Pillars of faith as the sole representation of Islamic teaching and bring the Qur’anic message to the forefront of Islamic thoughts.
Until the recent past the clergy could crush the progressive Muslim intellectuals by passing Fatwas or reviling and marginalizing them, but today it is being increasingly and openly challenged for it has lost its clout and is rightly or wrongly being charged for the Islam’s all-encompassing malaise reflecting in educational backwardness, retrogression, misogyny, sectarianism, exclusivism, claims to spiritual supremacism, Arabisation, radicalization, anarchy, disarray, terrorism and pan-Islamic political aspirations in the Muslim societies. However, with its control of global media with massive funding from the traditional heartland of Islam and its proxy role as agents of superpowers, it can simply ignore the voice of the progressive, humanist, pluralistic Muslims. So the Muslims who want to retrieve the Qur’anic message from its theological quagmire must go beyond merely articulating their thoughts: they have to table an alternate Qur’an-centric theology to replace the current medieval rooted theology. And this precisely is the object of this article.
Unlike the great scholar of the past, the authors of this essay are not stopping short after giving yet another clarion call to expound the all-encompassing message of the Qur’an. They are expounding it in their joint publication, Essential Message of Islam that NAI has posted both Chapter-wise and in its entirety. The book can serve as a blue-print to restoring the Pristine Theology of Islam expounding the Huquq al Ibad – man’s duty to man as enshrined in the Qur’an. It is the outcome of more than a decade of intensive study of the Qur’an and attempts to expound its definitive commandments and liberating trajectories that together constitute the Huquq al Ibad.
The unique feature of this book is that it represents an attempt to explain the Qur’an through the Qur’an – a methodology known as the best source of Tafsir. It is approved by al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo and authenticated by one of the most distinguished scholars of this era, Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl. The credentials of this scholar as tabled in his endorsement note in the book as follows:
Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl
This book is endorsed and introduced by one of the most distinguished Islamic scholars, Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl ,who is the Alfi Distinguished Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law, where he teaches International Human Rights, Islamic Jurisprudence, National Security Law, Law and Terrorism, Islam and Human Rights, Political Asylum and Political Crimes and Legal Systems. He was awarded the University of Oslo Human Rights Award, the Leo and Lisl Eitinger Prize in 2007, and was named a Carnegie Scholar in Islamic Law in 2005. He was appointed by President George W. Bush as the only Muslim on the Commission for International Religious Freedom, and also previously served on the Board of Directors of Human Rights Watch. Dr. Abou El Fadl has written 14 books (five forthcoming) and over 50 articles on Islamic law and Islam. His books have been translated into numerous languages including Arabic, Persian, French, Norwegian, Dutch, Ethiopian, Russian, and Japanese. In 2007, his book, “The Great Theft” was named as one of the year’s Top 100 Books by Canada’s Globe and Mail. His book, “The Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Books” is a landmark in contemporary Islamic literature.
Dr. Fadl’s Authentication Reads As Follows:
“For those who have the moral will, the book I introduce here will prove to be an invaluable reference source on the Islamic faith. For those who do not wish to be participants in the perpetuation of religious bigotry and hate, this book will provide an accurate, thoughtful, and reliable introduction to Muslim beliefs and practices. I wish we lived in a world in which this book would become a standard reference source for students of religion who are interested in an accurate introduction to the religion of Islam. The best thing I can say about this book is that it is the product of a labour of love that lasted for more than a decade. The authors do not offer a personalized view of their own religiosity; they explain in a very straightforward and accessible fashion what mainstream Muslims believe in and especially, what the Qur’an itself teaches. Non-Muslims will understand why well over a billion people call themselves Muslim and also how Islam inspires Muslims to deal with and improve upon the world in which they live. Indeed this book manages to translate the Muslim vision or the way that Islam heals the ailments of humanity in the current age and every age. Readers who wish to learn the theological and moral dogma of Islam will find this book indispensable. But this book is not just an informative tool for the fair-minded and interested reader. This book is an educational tool for both Muslims and non-Muslims—it is an authoritatively reliable text to teach young Muslims, or even Muslims who never had the time to study the Qur’an, or the fundamentals of their religion. The book is written with the kind of balance and fair mindedness that makes it equally valuable for Muslim and non-Muslim students of Islam. The least I can say about this text is that it was written by two ethically conscientious and principled Muslims in order to share their religion with every ethically conscientious and principled reader in the world. They must be heard.”
Dr. Khaled M. Abou El Fadl
Alfi Distinguished Professor of Islamic law
UCLA SCHOOL OF LAW
Commendation of the book by international scholars from the Arab world (maghrib)
From: Dr. Latifa Belfakir
School of Arts and Humanities of Meknes in Morocco– December 15, 2010.
“I'm Dr. Latifa Belfakir from the School of Arts and Humanities of Meknes in Morocco. I have had such a great pleasure to read your book Essential Message of Islam. Believe me, sir, it is a precious piece of work, which opens the eyes of the both the Muslim and non-Muslim on many aspects of our religion and sheds more light on the life and extraordinary nature of our prophet (PBUH). I wish you all the best of luck and success.”
From: Mohammed Moubtassime
Faculty of Letters & Humanities - Dhar El-Mehraz- Fes – November 26, 2010
“Dr. Fatima Sadiqi has brought to the Department of English at the Faculty of Humanities in Fes, Morocco copies your book Essential Message of Islam.
On behalf of all the Colleagues at the Department of English and the Professors of the Modular Degree Programme, I am heading, I would like to thank you for the copies you have sent us.
“From the reading I have done, I value the book to be a good contribution to the field of the interpretation of the Quran. It is a challenging book that stands apart from the traditional existing works that removes any misconception about Muslim-Christian-Jewish relationships, presenting Islam as a Universal Religion, promoting a peaceful coexistence of people of all faiths. The book will help our students, especially postgraduates of Cultural Studies and Gender Studies (MAs and PhDs). The Library of the Faculty of Humanities in Fes will be enriched having among its catalogues the Essential Message of Islam.”
From: Fatima Harrak
Institut des Etudes Africaines
Université Mohammed V, Rabat - Maro, December 09, 2010.
“Professor Moha Naji has been kind enough to give me three copies of your book on Islam. Congratulations for a work well done and stay assured that I ill share this precious work with colleagues and students in Morocco and abroad.
Keep the good work and thanks again for your gift.
1.5 Commendation of the book by international scholars from the non-Arab world
From: Anonymous scholar, Canada, posted on the Amazon.com website, Sep. 01, 2010.
“If you read ONE book on Islam - let this be the one. This holds true regardless of whether you were born in a Muslim family or have no familiarity at all with Muslims/Islam. In fact, in reaching out to both these audiences, the authors show how the real Islam of the Quran - understood properly with scholarly translations-, is so different from cultural myths that have arisen both amongst the Muslims and non-Muslims about Islam.
While I am sure many non-Muslims will find it pleasantly shocking to see the real humane face of this religion, many Muslims will be equally shocked at rediscovering the real foundational text of their religion - which is most often ignored or quoted without context in current Islamophobic as well as extremist political-Islamist rhetoric.”
on Dec. 28, 2011, by Saif Shahin, Research Scholar, University of Texas at Austin
“Untruths about Muslims and Islam have become so pervasive that they sometimes seem like the un-dead in zombie movies: staring at you from every door and window, coming at you from every nook and corner, bent on tearing you apart. …While there are relatively harmless myths prevalent among non-Muslims, it is the lies about Islam that many Muslims also believe in which are the most dangerous. Over years, decades and centuries these lies have accumulated, clogging the blood vessels of the religion, wrenching its body from its heart and mind, leaving Islam a hyper-tense version of what it could be. Essential Message of Islam is a labour of love in which Muhammad Yunus and Ashfaque Ullah Syed try to expose these lies for what they are by reverting to the Quran, deriving the meanings of its words, idioms, figures of speech and phrases from their usage across its text, and interpreting the message of its Suras and Ayats from its “broad moral trajectory”.
The book can be accessed on this link.
Slow to open at this moment NAI is working to enable quick access.
Let this be a humble beginning towards restoring the faith of Islam to its pristine beauty that drew on the plethora of its Huquq al Ibad, and towards creating “a coherent theology of peace and pluralism, consistent in all respects with the teachings of Islam, and suitable for contemporary and future societies.”
1. Sahih al-Bukhari, Chap. 42, ‘The Book of Belief.’
3. Ahmad Hussain, Doctrine of Ijma in Islam, New Delhi, 1992, p.16.
4. Sanan Abu Daud, Urdu translation by Wahiduz Zaman, Vol.3, Acc. 253, p. 118.
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.