In almost a hundred verses, Heaven is promised to doers of good deeds while others promise the paradise to the observant of taqwa (righteousness, almost synonymous with Good Deeds)
Some readers of New Age Islam requested Quran exegete Muhammad Yunus to issues raised in well-known Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan's Essay On Dawa. Muhammad Yunus responds.
Ref: Dawah and the Purpose of Life By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
7 November 2013
As I read through the article I encounter a number of themes and axiomatic statements and would like to comment on each:
1. Religion of truth: In the context of the revelation, the Qur’an refers to Islam as ‘din al haq’ or ‘religion of truth 'and repeatedly declares that it is going to be established, however the pagans may detest (9:33, 48:28, 61:9). But the Qur’an also uses the epithet ‘Islam’ in a generic sense as the true religion preached by all messengers regardless of their mention in the Qur’an (2:136, 3:3, 3:84, 42:13) and accordingly, it asks Muslims to make no distinction between any of the Prophets (4:152, 2:285, 57:19) – a statement that bars the Muslims from claiming any superiority for their prophet or religion.
Thus to suggest that Islam (in its popular sense) is the only pure religion and other religions are impure will be tantamount to putting additional words into the Qur’an. However, the Qur’an claims to be the embodiment of divine speech preserved without any corruption and unparalleled in diction and a miracle of God in its own right, and a Muslim will be within his legal and moral rights to make this claim as much as people of any religion have right to make any claim about their books and deities. Accordingly, the Muslims are asked not to insult what the others hold sacred (6:108), but how many Muslim preachers avoid making left handed remarks against what others hold sacred is a big question mark.
2. Its take on common Criterion of divine judgment: "The criterion of selection for both Muslims and non-Muslims is one and the same—that is, discovery of truth and not birth into any religion. Thus, both Muslims and non-Muslims are required to stand up to the same test."
My comment: As ‘truth’ under 1 is conflated with the popular religion of Islam, the statement purports to connect divine approval with one’s acknowledgement of the truth of Islamic faith. The Qur’an is, however, unequivocally assures all believers in God – regardless of their religion that He will judge them –including the atheists and polytheists (22:17) on the basis of their deeds ('amal/ karama) and moral uprightness (taqwa/dharma - preservation against evil / control of the arrogant evil-prone self or nafs al ammara -12:53)
3. The statements, “Accountability depends on one’s knowledge.” “Everyone will be treated according to their knowledge of the truth.”
i. These are philosophically couched sentences. In almost a hundred verses, paradise is promised to the doers of good while others promise the paradise to the observant of taqwa (13:35, 47:15, 51:15, 52:17, 54:54, 77:41). These criteria pertain to moral and functional spirituality regardless of any theological knowledge. Theological knowledge’ is contingent to environment, individual cognitive ability, theological orientation, exposure to theological discourses and the time and resources at one’s disposal after meeting the essential survival needs. It cannot therefore be standardised as a common criterion of approval for all humanity. Thus, the Qur’an does not provide any firm basis to support the above statements.
4. The article encourages ontological reflection: “Every person, by nature, seeks answers to questions such as: Who am I? What are life and death? What will happen to me after death? … Every person will be questioned whether he ignored his nature or tried to find answers to the questions it raised.”
My Comment: The quest for the ultimate truth regarding life and death as stated fall in the category of the ‘mutashabihat’ and do not constitute any definitive commandments of the Qur’an that the believers are required to follow (3:7). Therefore, as a Muslim, apart from the pillars of faith, I am required to abide by the social, moral and ethical paradigms of the Qur’an, which are of universal nature and clearly stated. I will keep away from speculating about questions, the answer of which is known only to God. Besides, person of different religions will have different eschatological imageries and that is true even among the Muslims.
Speculation on what is beyond the faculty of human mind constitutes dialectic theology – that is an attempt to understand the truth by dialectic methods. It formed the core of scholastic scholarship of medieval ages and came into Islam from Christianity. If today we call upon the Muslims to mediate and speculate on the unseen and the unknowable, we go back to their pre-Islamic orientation of religious thoughts.
5. The article raises the question: “Can, ‘inherited Islam, rather than conviction in Islam born out of genuine introspection and reflection, be adequate for salvation?”
My Comment: Religion is a happenstance today. Barring a small minority of converts and some Ulema and researchers, the entire Muslim community inherit their faith. In today’s fast life, people don’t have time to post a comment even to most critical article or even to read them, where is the time to make any pedagogic study of the Qur’an?
6. The following statement is speculative: “Not doing Dawah work is a punishable act, but the punishment will be given out in the Hereafter and not in the present world.”
My Comment: Read in isolation as a definitive (muhkam) commandment, the verse 2:159 will require all Muslims to proselytize as part of their religious duty or else incur divine wrath. The statement must be understood in conjunction with other verses on the theme, notably 2:42, 72, 140, 146, 174; 3:71, 187; 5:61. The last three of these verses expressly censor the People of the Book (the Christians and Jews of the era) for concealing some part of their revelation or truth (3:71), their pledge (3:187) and their inner thoughts as they left the Prophet after holding consultations with him (5:61).
The rest implicitly related to them as well for their knowingly hiding of a part of the revelation that was vouchsafed in them (2:42, 174), hiding the evidences of a murder (2:72), and the testimony of God (2:140). Hence the verse 2:159 unquestionably relates to the People of the Book and forms a part of the debate that the Prophet had with the Jewish tribes of Medina. To interpret them as a mandatory instruction to all Muslims for all times is thus speculative and not supported by the Quran.
7. In its concluding part, the article connects the effectiveness of ‘dawah’ with the general conduct and behaviour of the Muslims and cordial relation with the non-Muslims. The Qur’an does not however expressly ask the Muslims to go in small groups and knock at the doors of neighbouring non-Muslims or give speeches to invite people to Islam. However, purely from a democratic perspective and the inalienable right of people to sell their product even if that is an ideology – like America selling democracy to the Muslim world, albeit by force, the scholars, preachers, and televangelists of all religions have a right to convey the essentials of their religious tenets to others as much as this writer has a right to share his own understanding of his religion with all readers regardless of their religion or aversion. But any dawah work must not hurt the sentiments of people of other faiths and there must be no coercion in religion.
I know there are problems. A Christian missionary can quote from the Sira of the Prophet or the Hadith to demonise the Prophet of Islam and gutter the Qur’an and even plan to burn its hard copies under the eyes of law. A Muslim can question the very notion of God taking birth as a human being and meeting a terrible death and both can question polytheism and pantheism in their own ontological orations.
As hatred against Islam and the Muslims has become almost normative – thanks to the heinous crimes of the terrorist in the name of Islam, and even intellectuals expect Muslims to accept genocide of Rohingyas in Burma this very day as tit for tat against the destruction of Bamyan Staues some 13 years ago by a totally different creed of Muslims, and riots and hate crimes against Muslims are given immensely less publicity than the atrocities the non-Muslim are made to bear at the hands or Islamic zealots and terrorists, the preachers of Islam have taken to verbally attack faith of those people who have no sympathy with them without any sympathy either.
These preachers of religion openly claim supremacism in religious ideology, draw record crowds and mesmerize the Muslim listeners for whom the acclaimed superiority serves as an antidote to their frustrations for marginalization, sufferings and perceived injustices. The preachers and spokesmen of rival religions return like for like and the wheel of hatred turns on.
These are just my thoughts and I do not want to hurt anyone’s sentiments. Probably my comment would not have been any different were I not a Muslim. The problem the world faces today cannot be solved by apportioning blames. In this vicious environment the Muslim have to earn the sympathy and good will of the others by treating the terrorist outfits as the Kharijites – terrorist apostates under the cover of Islam and excel in performance, treating all humanity as their co-equal before God, probing the Qur’an in its historic context as book of guidance for all humanity and excelling in all lawful pursuits including universal education before thinking of any dawah work.
I wonder if anyone is going to read this long piece of my mind except for those who have drawn me into it.
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.