By Hamid S. Aziz
06 June 20006
Different passages in the Qur'an belong to different categories of discourse. One of these categories is what I call "situational". By that I mean information addressed to the Prophet himself as guidance in a particular situation. A relatively clear example would be 33.28, which tells the Prophet what to say to his wives.
I have been identifying the commands given to believers in the Qur'an and, in the course of this exercise; I have been passing over situational commands as not applicable to believers in general. It has become clear to me that I stumbled into a major hermeneutical crux.
The Qur'an says, many times, that believers should obey Allah and his messenger. Speaking generically, this is usually read to mean obey what is written in the Qur'an and obey what is reported in the Sunna. Here I am concerned only with what is written in the Qur'an. Again speaking generically, "obey" is usually read as "do all that is recommended in the Qur'an" and "do not do what is disparaged". I have deviated from this general approach by seeking out specifically imperative commands in the Qur'an.
But the Qur'an does not say that believers should imitate the Prophet. There are passages (for example, 53.2 and thereafter) that can be read to say that the Prophet achieved perfection and from such passages people have deduced that the Prophet is intended to be the universal role model. Be that as it may, the hermeneutical crux I have in mind is how to interpret the situational passages.
The particular example I want to discuss is the "sword Ayat". The sword Ayat is 9.5, the fifth Ayat in the ninth Surat, al-Bara'at. It is quite famous. Here, for example, is a comment about it (by a writer hostile to Islam):
"An example of the abrogation: There are 124 versus that call for tolerance and patience that have been cancelled and replaced by one, single verse. This verse is called the verse of the sword: But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)..... "
But the Ayat 9.5 is clearly situational and applied, once upon a time, to a particular situation the proto-Muslims were faced with. The entire passage involved extends from 9.1 to 9.22. 9.1-2 may not belong to this situation, but rather to a slightly earlier one.
The situation involves mosques (as in 9.17) and to one particular mosque called the "sacred" (HRAM) mosque (as in 9.7). It also involves the Hajj (as in 9.3) and the sacred months (which months these are is a side issue I will avoid for now). The passage as a whole says that whatever truce was in place with the "idolaters" ends (according to 9.5 itself) when the sacred month’s end. Then outright war is declared.
However if any of the "idolaters" asks for protection (that is, surrenders) he is to be protected (this is a singular imperative) (as in 9.6).
Thus it seems clear that the entire passage applies only to one situation. Traditionally (according to Ibn Ishaq) that situation occurred in 9 AH after Mecca had become Muslim. It is not clear in the tradition whom the hostility is addressed against. Ibn Ishaq speaks in terms of a general agreement with all the "polytheists". Since the deputations from the tribes to Muhammad begin immediately thereafter, it seems to me that, although he does not so state (or Ibn Hisham has removed the statement), we are supposed to understand that, deprived of their sanctuary, the tribes of Arabia all turned to Islam to regain access to it.
From the point-of-view I have deduced for Ibn Ishaq the sword passage
(9.1-22) set off a very important historical event. But neither he nor I see any reason for reading it as a precedent for all Muslims forever.
Thus I maintain that the sword Ayat abrogated nothing at all, that it is not a command to Muslims in general, that it is not a precedent anyone should follow and that it applied to a single event (even if Ibn Ishaq may have gotten some of the details wrong) that happened a long time ago.
This, of course, is not the traditional conclusion drawn from the sword Ayat. However, I would be surprised if I were the first person to advocate this treatment of the sword Ayat discourse. One of these categories is what I call "situational". By that I mean information addressed to the Prophet himself as guidance in a particular situation.
...and from such passages people have deduced that the Prophet is intended to be the universal role model. Be that as it may, the hermeneutical crux I have in mind is how to interpret the situational passages.
Not for imitation but as a guide.
"O Prophet! Surely,We have sent you as a witness, and as a bearer of good news and as a Warner, 33:46. And as one inviting to Allah by His permission, and as a light-giving Lamp." 33:45-46
"Say: If you love Allah then follow me, and Allah will love you and forgive you your sins, for Allah is Forgiving and Merciful." 3:31
"Verily, you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent example for him who hopes in Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah much. " 33:21
"O you who believe! Respond unto Allah and His Messenger when He calls you to that which quickens you; and know that Allah comes in between a man and his own heart; and that He it is unto Whom you shall be gathered." 8:24
forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)..... "to a particular situation the proto-Muslims were faced with. Thus I maintain that the sword Ayat abrogated nothing at all, that it is not a command to Muslims in general, that it is not a precedent anyone should follow and that it applied to a single event.
(1) Not all situations that the Muslim community under Muhammad (saw) had to deal withare mentioned in the Quran. This situation is in the Quran because it is an example of other similar situations that may arise.
(2) But it is not to be taken out of context. It the context of a defensive war against attacks.
(3) Moreover, it can also have an even more general symbolic meaning in that the attack might be verbal or through other actions or it may refer to psychological attacks by ideas within the persons own mind.
I see that you are attempting to understand how the rules or even the Shria arises from the Quran In order to understand this and its relation to the rest of the teachings you need to understand the following :-
(1) There is distinction between Allah who has the Absolute Truth, Virtue and Power and the created world of relativities where there is a distinction of degrees. There is no absolute distinction in the Quran (a) between teaching stories, history, moral teachings, practical instructions, guidelines, recommendations, laws, the useful, matters of procedure, statement of facts and value judgements, or (b) between what is absolutely true or false, good or evil, useful or harmful and what is conditional or dependent on the perception and intention of people or (c) between different aspects of life such as crimes, morals, private and social behaviour, etiquette, good manners, matters of hygiene and even thoughts, motives and actions, and what a person does to himself or to others. All behaviour is judged according to its spiritual effects on the person himself and on others, these two being inter-dependent.
(2) The Quran contains similitudes such that the particular is an example of the general. So though the Quran mentions only a relatively small number of particular things while the world presents a far greater number of different things and events, analogical reasoning is required to extend consideration to all other cases that may arise.
(3) The Sharia is one of three parts of Islam: Haqiqat (the Truth), Tariqat (the Method or Way and Shariat (the Law). The Law exists to give order to the community, to incorporate the Ideal, educate and instruct people as to what it is and create conditions in which the spiritual life is made possible and encouraged. It should lead to the next stage, the Tariqat, where deliberate conscious action based on correct motivation and understanding are cultivated. This in turn should lead to the third stage where the nature of the person is transformed and he is a Muslim in fact.
(4) The Quran can be seen as having three levels:- (i) The World View – The Primary Principles or basic concepts e.g. Allah, Surrender, Vicegerency, the nature of man and his responsibilities, the nature of good and evil.
(ii) The Secondary principles, the notions of Truth, Compassion, Justice, the rights and duties. (iii) The Tertiary principles, which are methods ensuring the operation of the secondary values. This refers to the way things are organised. (iv) The particular conditions and the specific laws which prescribe punishment and reward for specific actions or inaction.
Judgements can be based on any of these levels.
(5) The following features are important:
(a) Nothing can be forbidden that is not expressly forbidden. (b) No one is guilty unless proved to be so. (c) The intention behind the act makes people culpable but they do have the responsibility to ensure as far as possible that their actions have good rather than evil results. A distinction is made between what is forbidden, disapproved of, allowed, recommended, and obligatory. Some things that are bad are forgivable under certain conditions, e.g. stealing when under necessity, killing in self-defence and war. Other things that are normally good can be bad under certain conditions e.g. helping criminals.
(6) The Quran requires obedience to Allah, the Prophet and those in Authority (4:59). That is the order of priority. The Quran contains mainly general principles, but the Prophet adapted and applied these to the conditions of life he found himself in. The Sharia is derived from the Quran (the Word of God) and Sunna (the Traditions of the Prophet), but it is an interpretation by the third Authority. Though the systems of certain past authorities have become sacrosanct causing Islam to become stagnant, there is no reason to suppose that such interpretations and adaptations cannot be done by present day authorities with the appropriate qualifications.
(7) The construction of the Sharia is the concern of those who know, understand and apply the Quran and have the experiences connected with the practice of Islam and of the community of Muslims. It must be done with pure motives on objective principles and cannot be done on the basis of whim, prejudice, expediency, self-interest, ignorance, or competition for power.
Source: NARKIVE News Group Archive