By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam
08 March 2019
This is a sequel to my article: The Religion of Allah before and After the Quran, in which I had said that the Quran abrogates the war related verses in the previous scriptures. To briefly summarise the previous article, before the Quran, compulsion in religion was a necessity without which the counter intuitive moral principles from religion could not have been implemented. The prophetic mission of Muhammad (pbuh), and the revelation of the Quran came at a time when the moral principles from religion had permeated society and the people had realized from the empirical evidence, the benefits of having followed the moral principles. This obviated the need for compulsion in religion as the truth of the religion was clear from error. This was a major break from all the previous scriptures, and for the first time, the Qur’an proclaims “Let there be no compulsion in religion, for the Truth stands out clear from error”. This is in stark contrast to the previous scriptures where both compulsion in religion and killing and or subjugation by enslavement of those who rejected the religion was commanded. The Quran also avers that it contains the “perfected and complete religion” obviating the need to rely on previous scriptures or on any other source for guidance. The Quran confirms a part of what was revealed in the previous scriptures and omits that which is abrogated. Relying on the previous scriptures to “interpret” the Qur’an, is therefore a sure way to “misinterpret”. Neither is there a need to “interpret” the Qur’an because it is “Kitabum Mubeen” or a “Clear, perspicuous Book”. While the Quran asks us to believe in all the scriptures, it does not ask us to follow them. It asks us to follow only the Quran which contains among other things, the sunnat or the approved practices of the prophets and the people of Allah that continues to be relevant. Following any other Sunnat of any prophet or man of Allah not approvingly mentioned in the Quran is therefore unnecessary.
While the Christians were positively influenced by the Muslims and their Book as it represents the perfected religion, the reverse influence of Judeo-Christian scriptures on Islam has been negative because the Muslims followed abrogated paradigms and continue t follow them! All Classical Islamic scholarship, including the moderates such as Javed Ghamidi and Maulana Waheeduddin Khan, look at wars of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), through the Judeo-Christian paradigms, which are totally irrelevant, since the Quran completely abrogates all previous verses on war, and replaces them with fresh guidelines which are very different. In the Quran, there is only one justification for war, and that is to fight against oppression while in the previous scriptures, every war was against the ungodly nations and many of these were aggressive wars to wipe out the ungodly populations completely. In the previous scriptures, there is no verse on making treaties with the enemy nor for giving any quarter. In the Quran, an offer of peace treaty is never to be rejected. In the Quran, the vanquished fighters guilty of fighting in violation of their treaty were given four months of amnesty to migrate and retain their religion and those not guilty of violating their treaty could become jiziya paying citizens.
Critique of the book “Playing God” authored by Shehzad Saleem
Classical Islamic scholarship relying on Judeo-Christians paradigms however distort the message of the Quran. Even the most moderate among them such as Javed Ghamidi, are misled and mislead using the abrogated paradigms to misinterpret the Quran ignoring the simple straightforward meaning. The following is a critique of the book “Playing God” by Shehzad Saleem, an associate of Javed Ghamidi. Excerpts from the book are critiqued with my comments in italics preceded by my name. The book draws heavily from Javed Ghamidi’s book, Mīzān. The book views the prophetic mission as follows:
The way this established practice about risālah (prophethood) manifests itself is that the Almighty selects His messengers so that reward and punishment can be meted out in this world through them before the actual Day of Judgement. It becomes a miniature rehearsal of what is going to take place on that Day. These messengers are told that if they honour their covenant with God, they will be rewarded in this very world and if they do not do so, they will be punished in this very world. The result is that the very existence of these messengers becomes a sign of God, and it is as if their people can observe God walking on earth with these messengers and delivering His verdicts. On the basis of the signs of truth that they have directly observed, they are directed to propagate the truth and present to the people with full certainty the very guidance of God the way they have received it from Him. In the terminology of the Qur’ān, this is called shahādah. Once this is established, it becomes a basis of the judgement of the Almighty both in this world and in that to come. Consequently, the Almighty grants dominance to these messengers, and punishes those who reject the message presented by these messengers.
Naseer: From the time the Quran proclaimed, “let there be no compulsion in religion”, there cannot any longer be any punishment in this world for rejecting the message. In the past the disbelievers were destroyed by an act of Allah or by the sword of the Ruler Messengers and his army of believers. This is a paradigm from the past and not applicable to the prophetic mission of Muhammad (pbuh) and later.
The preaching mission of a messenger can be broadly categorized in the following three phases: i. The Propagation Phase ii. The Acquittal Phase iii. The Judgement Phase
Naseer: Not all prophetic missions covered all the phases. Jesus (pbuh) mission for example covered only phase i and that too differently since there was no other phase to follow. Moreover, Jesus was a reformer prophet sent to the Jews who were believers while Muhammad (pbuh) was sent to a people to whom no Messenger was sent before. The phase and the Message are therefore not comparable.
The Propagation Phase
With this phase begins the mission of the messengers. During this phase, with the special help and assistance of the Almighty, the messengers remove misconceptions which may surround the truth and vehemently say that if people do not accept the truth, they shall be doomed in this world and in the Hereafter.
In this phase, the messengers of Allah never use force or retaliate against any oppression or persecution encountered. They spend all their time and energy in earnestly urging people to mend their ways. In this phase, the addressees of a messenger are the influential people of the society. Their political and social leaders and their intellectuals are earnestly called upon. While explaining this aspect, Amīn Ahsan Islahi, writes:
… Abraham (sws) at the very outset called to the truth his family and clan who held the reins of religious leadership. He then called to the truth the king who had the reins of political authority and who thought that he had power over the life and death of his people … The Almighty had directed Moses (sws) to first of all address the Pharaoh … Jesus (sws) first called upon the scholars of the Jews. Similarly, the preaching endeavours of the Prophets Noah (sws), Hūd (sws) and Sālih (sws) are all mentioned in the Qur’ān. All these prophets began their preaching by calling upon the people who were in authority in their times. They tried to wake up those in authority and the arrogant people of their times from their deep slumber and vehemently criticized their views. Finally, Muhammad (sws) was sent and asked to warn his immediate relatives. These relatives were the religious and political leaders of the patriarchal polity of Arabia and with this reference morally and politically guided all the people of Arabia.
In the second stage of the Propagation Phase, the messengers of God augment their preaching efforts and increase their sphere. When the leaders of their people see that their efforts are bearing fruit, they try to stop these messengers by hook or by crook. This Propagation Phase finally culminates in the communication of the truth in a conclusive manner to the addressees. Such is the conclusive nature of this communication that they are left with no excuse to deny the truth.
Naseer: The above is a generalization. Not every mission is opposed by the leaders of the people who try to stop the messengers “by hook or by crook”. For example, everyone to whom Prophet Yunus (pbuh) was sent, believed. Very few of the people to whom Prophet Yusuf was sent believed but none appear to have opposed him either. The author’s mind is however closed to possibilities other than violent opposition by the leaders or to any other outcome of the prophetic mission of Muhammad except punishment of the disbelievers by the sword.
The Acquittal Phase
At the end of the Propagation Phase – which is signalled by the Almighty since only He knows when enough time has been given to people to reflect and accept the truth – a messenger disassociates himself from his people by announcing his acquittal and migrating from them so that the Almighty can pronounce His judgement both upon the followers of the messenger and his adversaries. Two important things must be noted about the migration of a messenger which takes place in this acquittal phase. Firstly, it signals the end of his nation. It means that all that could have been done to call them to accept faith has been done. Before migration, as long as a messenger remains among his people, they are protected from any punishment and given respite due to his presence. So, when the pagan Arabs demanded from Muhammad (sws) to bring the punishment he had been threatening them with, they were told:
But God was not going to send them a punishment whilst you are amongst them. (8:33)
Secondly, a messenger is not authorized to make the decision of migration for himself since only the Almighty knows when a particular people has been given enough time to accept the truth. A messenger must keep to his task of warning his people, in spite of bitter opposition, until he is informed by the Almighty that the time for warning them is over. The Prophet Jonah (sws) was reprimanded by the Almighty when he on his own decided to migrate from his people:
And remember dhū al-nūn, when he departed in wrath thinking that We will not hold him responsible! So he cried through the depths of darkness: “There is no god but You. Glory be to You. I was indeed wrong!” (21:87)
The Prophet Muhammad (sws) was told to exercise patience and not be like Jonah (sws) until the decree of Allah arrived:
So wait with patience for the Command of your Lord, and be not like the Companion of the Fish, -- when he cried out in agony. (68:48)
Naseer: This paradigm also does not hold good for the prophetic mission of Muhammad (pbuh). Although Muhammad migrated to Medina, the people of Mecca were not destroyed by an act of Allah. This is because in Allah’s consideration the people could yet seek Allah’s pardon and be pardoned.
(8:33) But Allah was not going to send them a penalty whilst thou wast amongst them; nor was He going to send it whilst they could ask for pardon.
The Judgement Phase
This phase is the culmination of a messenger’s preaching mission. By now, the believers have become discreet and distinct from the disbelievers and organized as a separate unit. It is in this phase that the messenger decides the fate of his nation. It is in reality the Almighty who undertakes this task as pointed out before. It is evident from the Qur’ān that in the Judgement phase, the punishment of the Disbelievers normally takes two forms depending upon the situation that arises. If a messenger has very few companions and he has no place to migrate from his people and attain political power, then the messenger and his companions are shifted out from their nation by the Almighty and made to migrate to a safe place. Their nation is then destroyed through various natural calamities like earthquakes, typhoons and cyclones. The Qur’ān says:
So each one of them We seized for their crime: of them, against some We sent a violent tornado with showers of stones; some were caught by a mighty blast; some We sunk in the earth; and some We drowned in the waters. (29:40)
The ‘Ād, nation of Hūd (sws), the Thamūd nation of Sālih (sws) as well as the nations of Noah (sws), Lot (sws) and Shu‘ayb (sws) were destroyed through such natural disasters when they denied their respective messengers as is mentioned in the various sūrahs of the Qur’ān. In the case of Moses (sws), the Israelites never denied him. The Pharaoh and his followers however did. Therefore, they were destroyed. The Prophet Jonah’s people accepted faith and were saved from punishment: In particular, a graphic summary of the fate of these nations is found in Sūrah Qamar, the fifty fourth sūrah of the Qur’ān.
So why was there not a single settlement which professed faith so that its faith should have profited it, – except the people of Jonah? When they believed, We removed from them the penalty of ignominy in the life of the present, and permitted them to enjoy their life for a while. (10:98)
Naseer: In the case of Moses, only the people who followed the Pharaoh into the sea chasing Moses and the Bani Israel with an intention to kill them were drowned in the sea and not every disbelieving Egyptian.
In the second case, a messenger is able to win a fair amount of companions and is also able to migrate to a place where he is able to acquire the reins of political power through divine help. In this case, a messenger and his companions subdue their nation by force, and execute them if they do not accept faith. The nation of a messenger is then given further respite during which the messenger starts to purge and cleanse the people who accept faith and organizes them for a final onslaught upon the forces of evil. He also strengthens his hold and authority in the land. Once his companions are ready for an armed conflict, these addressees are given a final ultimatum and then attacked. The forces of a messenger are destined to triumph and humiliate his enemies. The punishment, which in the previous case descended from the heavens, in this case emanates from the swords of the believers. It was this situation which arose in the case of Muhammad (sws). His opponents were destroyed by the swords of the Muslim believers until at the conquest of Makkah, the remaining accepted faith. (Details follow in the next section). Referring to this form of divine punishment, the Qur’ān asserts:
Fight them and God will punish them with your hands and humiliate them and help you to victory over them. (9:14)
[Believers!] It is not you who slew them; it was [in fact] God who slew them. (8:17)
Naseer: The author is mixing up verses from different phases. Verse 8:17 belongs to the war phase and not to the judgment phase. The verses that cover the judgment on the vanquished people of Arabia are from 9:1 to 9:35. While Qatelu can mean both fight and kill, in the verses relating to waging of war, translating it as “ fight” is more appropriate, and in the verses relating to the judgment phase translating it as “kill or slay” is more appropriate. Also, in the judgment phase there is no question of victory and indeed the verse 9:14 in Arabic does not say “help you to victory”. It simply says help you. Verse 9:14 is therefore more correctly translated as:
Kill them, it is Allah who punishes them with your hands and disgraces them and helps you against them. (9:14)
The crimes of those who are to be killed is described in the previous verse as follows:
(9:13) Will ye not kill people who violated their oaths, plotted to expel the Messenger, and took the aggressive by being the first (to assault) you? Do ye fear them? Nay, it is Allah Whom ye should more justly fear, if ye believe!
Please note that the justification for killing is not their rejection of the faith.
In other words, as pointed out earlier, it is the Almighty Himself who punishes the immediate and direct addressees of messengers if they deny their respective messengers; the messengers and their companions are no more than a means to carry out this Divine plan. The punishment and humiliation of nations towards whom messengers were sent generally took place in two ways: Nations who subscribed to monotheism were spared if they accepted the supremacy of their respective messenger, while nations who subscribed to polytheism were destroyed. The latter fate is in accordance with the fact that polytheism is something that the Almighty never forgives:
God never forgives those guilty of polytheism though He may forgive other sins to whom He pleases. Those who commit polytheism devise a heinous sin. (4:48)
Naseer: The addressees of Verse 4:48 are the People of the Book and the addressees of a similar verse 4:116 are the Muslims for whom polytheism is an unforgivable sin. If Allah wanted to make polytheism an unforgivable sin for all, there would have been a single verse addressing all mankind or all children of Adam. This is not the case. The verse that addresses the children of Adam is 7:33 in which polytheism is only forbidden along with trespasses against reason. Polytheism for the polytheists is therefore only a trespass against reason and not an unforgivable sin especially for those without knowledge. See verse 9:13 above. The crime is not denial of the messenger or rejection of faith and indeed having proclaimed “let there be no compulsion in religion”, there cannot be a command to kill for polytheism and/or for rejection of the Messenger. The author is misled by the previous scriptures and ignores the Quran. He misinterprets both the Quran and Islamic history.
For similar reasons, in the Judaic law, perpetrators of polytheism were to be punished with death in this world:
If a man or woman living among you in one of the towns the Lord gives you is found doing evil in the eyes of the Lord your God in violation of his covenant, and contrary to my command has worshipped other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun or the moon or the stars of the sky, and this has been brought to your attention, then you must investigate it thoroughly. If it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, take the man or woman who has done this evil deed to your city gate and stone that person to death. (Deuteronomy 17:2-5)
Consequently, the Israelites were told that they should put to death all the polytheist nations and not to spare them in any way:
When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations – the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you – and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. (Deuteronomy 7:1-5)
The Old Testament also mentions that there were certain nations that were to be spared if they were prepared to live a life of subjugation. In the light of the Qur’ān, it can be adduced that such nations were those who did not subscribe to polytheism. They were not put to death and were given the option to live if they accepted the supremacy of the Mosaic law:
When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labour and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, and children, the livestock and everything else in the city you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby. (Deuteronomy, 20:10-15)
Naseer: The Quran, does not sanction war against any people for their beliefs and explicitly proclaims:
(2:256) Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error
(109:6) To you (the rejecter of Islam) be your religion and to me mine.
The Quran also announces that Muhammad is the seal of the Prophets in verse 33:40 and with it an end to the revelations from Allah and an end to the coming of further prophets or messengers of Allah. It marks the culmination of the process of civilizing people through religion and the verses cited above, recognize that the people have reached a level of maturity when compulsion is no longer necessary, with the moral principles from religion having permeated every society over the course of the previous seventy thousand years.
In verse 2:106, Allah says that Allah substitutes previous revelations by what is better, thus abrogating the previous verses, and in verse 5:15 that many previous instructions are omitted as these are no longer necessary. What we find omitted are verses related to war in the previous scriptures. Verse 13:38 also informs us that the previous Books were only for a period and not for all time. The Quran also says that the earlier people were given only a portion of the Book (3:23, 5:3, 4:44, 51,) and not the complete Book and invites them to the Quran. All previous religions and Scriptures were works in progress and the Scriptures valid only for a period. The Quran is the final Book containing the “perfected and completed religion”. Therefore, quoting previous scriptures which are abrogated by the Quran is highly misleading.
Consequently, the Israelites were not wiped out as a nation because, being the People of the Book, they were basically adherents to monotheism. Their humiliation took the form of constant subjugation to the followers of Jesus (sws) till the day of Judgement as referred to by the following verse:
Remember when God said:
“O Jesus! I will give death to you and raise you to Myself and cleanse you from those who have denied; I will make those who follow you superior to those who reject faith till the Day of Resurrection.” (3:55)
Here one might ask: Why were the People of the Book in particular the Christians regarded to be monotheists when they ascribed to trinity – which apparently is a polytheistic doctrine? The answer to this question is that Christians are basically followers of monotheism. The Bible is very explicit about it:
The most important one, answered Jesus, is this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Mark, 12:29)
Christians never admit to polytheism, though they are involved in certain polytheistic practices. A person becomes a polytheist when he openly admits that he is a polytheist. A person, who claims to be a monotheist inspite of being involved in polytheistic practices, cannot be regarded as a polytheist. The reason is that a person might be doing something wrong without realizing that what he is doing; all Christians whether of today or from the period of Jesus (sws) never admit to polytheism; trinity to them is in accordance with monotheism. Of course Muslims do not agree with them but unless they claim polytheism, it can only be said that in spite of claiming to be monotheists they are involved in polytheism. Their case is the case of a Muslim who goes to the grave of a saint to ask him to grant a wish; such a Muslim cannot be called a polytheist; he shall be told that what he is doing is something which is against monotheism to which he himself strongly claims adherence. Similarly, Christians cannot be called polytheists; however, they will be told that what they are doing is not in accordance with monotheism. It is precisely for this reason that the Qur’ān never called the People of the Book as polytheists though they subscribed to certain blatant forms of polytheism. The Qur’ān only called the Ishmaelites as polytheists because they admittedly subscribed and testified to the creed of polytheism. They strongly advocated that polytheism was the very religion the Almighty had revealed and claimed that they were strong adherents to this religion. Because of this very reason, they were called the Mushrikun (the adherents to the creed of shirk) by the Qur’ān.
Naseer: If Christians are polytheists but claim they are not, it makes them hypocrites. If the polytheists accept that they are polytheists, at least they are honest. They also equally believe that they are not doing any wrong. In any case, the Quran is different from all previous scriptures and has ruled that there will be no compulsion in religion. There is therefore no question of killing anyone for their beliefs or for the rejection of the Messenger of Allah.
Realization of the Divine Practice in the Preaching of Muhammad (sws) We shall now examine the details of the punishment that the Almighty administered to the disbelievers in the era of Muhammad (sws) in the overall perspective of the various phases of his preaching mission.
i. The Propagation Phase In the fortieth year of his life, Muhammad (sws) was summoned by the Almighty to serve Him. Makkah at the time was the social and cultural centre of Arabia. It was its central city. So, in accordance with the Almighty’s established practice of sending a messenger to the central city of a land, Muhammad (sws) was called upon to begin his endeavour in this city:
And thus have We sent by inspiration to you an Arabic Qur’ān that you may warn the Mother of Cities and all around her; – and warn [them] of the Day of Assembly of which there is no doubt [when] some will be in the Garden, and some in the Blazing Fire. (42:7)
In Makkah, where Muhammad (sws) spent about thirteen years of his preaching endeavour, his addressees were basically the Idolaters – the descendants of the Prophet’s great ancestor: the Prophet Ishmael (sws). However, the People of the Book were also addressed at various instances. Besides these two distinct pockets of opponents, there were the munāfiqūn (the Hypocrites) of whom only a few were in Makkah and who emerged as a sizeable faction in Madīnah as the Islamic message started to gain momentum. Muhammad (sws) bore witness to the truth before all these three groups and refuted their evil beliefs. In the terminology of the Qur’ān (33:44-45), this is called Shahādah. He revived various Abrahamic practices and rituals, cleansing them of various interpolations added by the polytheists, and delineating the basic truth of accountability in the Hereafter before God on the basis of a person’s deeds. The real debate with the Idolaters concerned their polytheistic beliefs and religious innovations (bid‘āt). They were repeatedly asked to give up their religion of Idolatry since it had no grounds. It was only the Almighty who could have told them that He had associated with Him certain other deities. Without the sanction of the Almighty, they had no means to know about such details for themselves. Consequently, when they claimed that polytheism was revealed to them by the Almighty Himself, the Qur’ān called this a vicious lie:
These are nothing but names which you have devised – you and your fathers – for which Allah has sent down no authority [whatsoever]. They follow nothing but conjecture and what their own souls desire! – even though there has already come to them guidance from their Lord! (53:23)
It is precisely for this reason that their denial of monotheism amounted to a deliberate rejection of the truth, as a result of which they would have to face the punishment of Hell in the Hereafter:
Nay there came to you My signs and you rejected them and showed haughtiness and as a result became from among the disbelievers. On the Day of Judgement, you will see that faces of those who told lies against God will turn black. Is not in Hell an abode for the haughty? (39:59-60)
Similarly, the People of the Book were asked to desist from their attitude of hostility and antagonism and to honour the covenant they had made of professing belief in the final Messenger – someone whose name was mentioned in their very books:
And fulfil the covenant of Allah when you have entered into it, and break not your oaths after you have confirmed them: indeed you have made Allah your witness; for Allah knows all that you do. And be not like a woman who breaks into untwisted strands the yarn she has spun after it has become strong. Nor take your oaths to practice deception between yourselves, lest one party should be more numerous than another: for Allah will test you by this; and on the Day of Judgement He will certainly make clear to you [the truth of] that wherein you disagree. (16:91-92)
He [–the Almighty–] said:
“With My punishment I visit whom I will; but My Mercy extends to all things. That [mercy] I shall ordain for those who do right, and practice regular charity, and those who believe in Our Signs – those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own [Scriptures] in the Torah and in the Injīl – for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good [and pure] and prohibits them from what is bad [and impure]; he releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that were upon them. So those who believe in him, honour him, help him, and follow the Light which is sent down with him – it is they who shall prosper.” (7:156-157)
Like the Idolaters also, their real crime, according to the Qur’ān, was deliberate denial:
Should I seek a judge other than God when it is He who has revealed the Book for you with all its precepts? Those to whom We gave the Book know that the Qur’ān has been revealed by your Lord with truth. Therefore have no doubts. (6:114)
So when there came to them that which they recognized, they disbelieved in it. So let the curse of Allah be on the disbelievers. (2:89)
Many of the people of the Book wish that if they could turn you away as disbelievers after you have believed out of envy from their own selves even after the truth has become manifest to them. (2:109)
How shall Allah guide a people who disbelieved after their belief and after they bore witness that the Messenger [Muhammad (sws)] is true and after clear proofs had come unto them? And Allah guides not the people who are wrong-doers. (3:86)
Initially, Muhammad (sws) could muster very little support from his tribe in favour of his message. Most people of Makkah rejected his call and only a few youth of the city accepted it. The hostility shown by the chiefs of Makkah was so severe that most people reckoned that it would only be a matter of days before this newly founded faith would reach a disastrous end. Muhammad (sws) and his Companions (rta) were put through severe physical torture and mental affliction. Such was the extent of the persecution suffered by the Prophet (sws) that for many years he had to confine his endeavour to his near relatives. However, after many years of persistent struggle, when it became evident that the people of Makkah were denying the Prophet (sws) due to sheer obstinacy, the Almighty asked him to dissociate himself from these people.
ii. The Acquittal Phase After thirteen long years of calling people to the truth, the Almighty told Muhammad (sws) that the truth had been unveiled to the Idolaters of Makkah. They had deliberately denied it, and therefore were now prone to punishment. In the meantime, the city of Madīnah had come under the influence of the Divine message and its chiefs readily accepted Islam. Muhammad (sws) was directed to migrate to Madīnah and leave his people. Sūrah Kāfirūn records this declaration of acquittal in the following words:
Naseer: There is no verse in the Quran that says that “the truth had been unveiled to the Idolaters of Makkah. They had deliberately denied it, and therefore were now prone to punishment” On the contrary as cited above, verse 8:33 says that Allah was not going to send calamity on them whilst they could ask for pardon. They never became unworthy of pardon except a few.
Declare [O Prophet!]: “O you Disbelievers! I shall worship not that which you worship. Nor will you ever worship [alone] that which I worship. Nor ever before this was I prepared to worship that which you worshipped. Nor were you ever prepared to worship that which I have been worshipping. [So, now] to you your religion and to me mine.” (109:1-6)
These words, it needs to be appreciated, are not meant to condemn or chide them; they actually convey their true behaviour. After thirteen long years of propagation and exhortation, the leaders of the Quraysh had refused the calls of sense and reason. Their denial was based on nothing but stubbornness in spite of the fact that the truth had been revealed to them in its purest form. The last verse of the sūrah, it must be appreciated, is not an expression of tolerance; it expresses renunciation on the part of the Prophet (sws) and a warning to the disbelievers that they must now get ready to face the consequences of their obdurate denial. As far as the People of the Book were concerned, the migration did not end the propagation phase for them since many of them were based in Madīnah. They were given more time to contemplate the consequences of denial until at a certain point in time in Madīnah; their time for accepting faith expired too. In other words, the Shahādah (bearing conclusive evidence to the truth) reached its completion for them in the Madīnan period after which Judgement was pronounced upon them together with the Hypocrites and the Idolaters of Arabia.
Naseer: Surah Al-Kafirun is among the earliest Surahs revealed in Mecca when the Prophet had commenced preaching and encountered vicious opposition from a few such as Abu Jahl, Abu Lahab etc. This was the 18th Surah in chronological order and followed by 68 more Surahs in the Meccan period. Surah Al-Kafirun is among the earliest Surahs in the propagation phase and not at the end of the acquittal phase. It is not a declaration of acquittal but a simple message to the few vicious enemies of the Prophet, Allah and Islam, who alone are the addressees of this Surah. They alone are told that they will not believe and therefore, to them be their religion and to the believers theirs. This is not addressed to all the Mushrikin, but the few Kafirin or hostile rejecters of Islam among them. The verse 109:6 means exactly what it says and if the Kafirin or the hostile rejecters of Islam had heeded it, and not practiced persecution and waged war, there would have been no war at all.
iii. The Judgement Phase Following are the details of the Judgement when it finally took place:
And if the disbelievers should fight you, they would certainly turn their backs; then would they find neither protector nor helper. Such has been the practice approved of God already in the past: no change will you find in the practice approved of God. (48:22-23)
They are given glad tidings of success in the following words:
God has promised to those among you who professed belief and did righteous deeds that He will of surety grant you political authority in this land as He granted it to those before them; that He will establish their religion – the one which He has chosen for them; and that He will change [their state] after the fear in which they [lived] to one of security and peace: “They will worship Me [alone] and not associate anyone with Me.” If any do reject faith after this, they are rebellious and wicked. (24:55)
The sincere among them who were guilty of some blemishes were forgiven after some punishment:
And [He turned in mercy also] to the three whose matter was deferred to such a degree that the earth seemed constrained to them for all its spaciousness, and their souls seemed straitened to them – and they perceived that there is no fleeing from Allah but to Him. Then, He turned to them that they might repent: for Allah is Oft-Returning, Most-Merciful. (9:118)
The weak among them were told that if they repented and mended their ways and remained steadfast, then hopefully the Almighty would also forgive them:
And there are others who have acknowledged their wrong-doings: they have mixed an act that was good with another that was evil. Perhaps, God will turn unto them [in mercy]: for God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (9:102)
(2) The Punishment It should be remembered that as per the divine practice discussed in the previous pages, after intentionally denying the truth, the Idolaters and the People of the Book had become worthy of death. However, the Almighty selectively awarded death to them. While the active adversaries of both denominations were put to death, the People of the Book were spared if they lived in subjugation to the Muslims, and the Idolaters were not given this option: they had to accept Islam or face death. The reason for this, as pointed out earlier, was that the People of the Book were primarily monotheists even though they were incriminated with certain blatant forms of polytheism and the Idolaters were avowed polytheists.
Naseer: For a religion that proclaims “Let there be no compulsion in religion”, nobody becomes worthy of death for the reason of their rejection of Islam. The author is misguided by previous scriptures abrogated by the Quran.
The Quran did not pronounce the death punishment on the polytheists and gave them the same options it gave ‘The People of the Book’. No one was put to death for their “disbelief’ or rejection of Islam.
(i) For the Idolaters Initially, the Idolaters were given an ultimatum of four months after which their humiliation would start:
This is a declaration of acquittal from Allah and His Messenger from these Idolaters with whom you had made contracts. So move about in the land for four months but you should know that you are not beyond the grasp of Allah and Allah shall indeed humiliate those who reject Him. (9:1-2)
Nasser: The freedom to move around freely for four months was also a freedom to migrate to a nearby country such as Abyssinia and save their faith as well their life.
Tribes who had honoured their contracts were provided immunity during the period of the contract. However, once the contract period ended, they would also be treated similarly:
But this action shall not be taken against those Idolaters with whom you have entered into alliance and who did not breach the contract nor aided anyone against you. So fulfil your engagements with them to the end of their term: for Allah loves the pious. (9:4)
Naseer: The author conjectures that after the expiry of the term of treaty, these people would also have to accept Islam or face death if they did not migrate before the end of their treaty. This is a falsehood. These people are covered by verse 9:29 along with the ‘People of the Book’. They could retain their faith and become jiziya paying citizens.
Later, this announcement was repeated for those people among these Idolaters who had not accepted faith until the day of hajj-i akbar (9th hijra). They were given a final extension by a proclamation made in the field of ‘Arafāt on that day. According to the proclamation, this final extension would end with the last day of the month of Muharram. Before this period, they had to accept faith and demonstrate this acceptance by offering prayers and paying Zakah; otherwise they would face execution at the end of that period. The Qur’ān says:
So when the forbidden months are over, slay the Idolaters wherever you find them. Seize them, surround them and everywhere lie in ambush for them. But if they repent from their wrong beliefs and diligently adhere to the prayer and pay zakāh, then spare their lives. God is Oft-Forgiving and Ever-Merciful. (9:5)
However, if a person asked for asylum to understand the teachings of Islam, he was to be given this asylum and no action was to be taken against him until this period was over.
And if anyone among the Idolaters asks you for asylum, grant it to him so that he may hear the Word of Allah and then escort him to where he can be secure. That is because they are men without knowledge. (9:6)
Naseer: The plain meaning of this verse is grant asylum and make sure they are kept safe from harm. There is no limitation on period for it. They are not to be harmed that is all.
(ii) For the People of the Book A final charge sheet of the crimes of the People of the Book was presented to them in the following words:
Fight those from among the People of the Book who believe not in Allah and the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor adopt the Religion of Truth as their own religion. [Fight them] until they pay the jizyah with willing submission and are subdued. (9:29)
Naseer: This verse is mistranslated. The correct translation is as follows:
(9:29) Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.
This directive related to both the Jews and the Christians. The punishment mentioned in these verses was in fact a show of great lenience to them because of the fact that they were originally adherents to monotheism. In reality, they had become worthy of death and destruction after deliberately denying Muhammad (sws). However, they did not benefit from this lenience because after the death of the Prophet (sws) they once again resorted to fraud and treachery. Consequently, the Jews of Khaybar and the Christians of Najrān were exiled once and for all from the Arabian Peninsula by the Caliph ‘Umar (rta). This exile in fact thus fulfilled the following declaration of the Qur’ān
Naseer: Nobody had become worthy of death. There were many reformer prophets before who were rejected and even slain by the Jews. Allah did not destroy these people. Who are the people who do not believe in Allah and the last day? Are they the Jews and Christians? Certainly not! The only people the Quran accuses of not believing in Allah and the last day are the “Mushrikin” or the polytheists. There are numerous verses that speak of the Jews and the Christians but not even one verse accuses them of not believing in Allah or the last day. There are also numerous verses that speak of the “Mushrikin” which accuse them of not believing in the last day and associating partners with Allah or disbelieving both in Allah and the Last Day (44:35, 50:3, 56:47). How do the scholars then connect this part of the verse with the Jews and Christians and not with the “Mushrikin” or the polytheists? They are misled by the paradigms of the earlier scriptures.
The Jews and the Christians are accused of not holding that forbidden which has been forbidden by Allah and his messenger (4:161, 5:42, 5:62,63) and not acknowledging the religion of Truth. The subject of the latter part of the verse is therefore the Jews and the Christians. The verse therefore covers the Polytheists (covered by 9:4 and 9:6 but not those covered by 9:5), the Jews and the Christiana and all of them are given a choice to willingly pay Jiziya or face war.
During this period [in Madīnah], the Prophet (sws) presented his message to all the nearby nations outside Arabia. The names of these heads of states are: 1. Negus of Abyssinia, 2. Maqawqas of Egypt, 3. Khusro Parvez of Persia, 4. Qaysar of Rome, 5. Mundhir ibn Sāwī of Bahrain, 6. Hūdhah ibn ‘Alī of Yamāmah, 7. H~ārith ibn Abī Shamr of Damascus, 8. Jayfar of Amman. By writing letters to the rulers of the nations, he made it clear upon them that now Islam alone can guarantee existence for them. This meant that just as the truth had been conclusively communicated through the Prophet (sws) to the Idolaters and the People of the Book of Arabia, it shall also be conclusively communicated before his death to these nations. The obvious outcome of this was that these nations also shall be punished in this world as per the divine law relating to deliberate rejection of the truth communicated to people by their respective messengers. Consequently, this is what happened also and after consolidating their rule in the Arabian peninsula, the Companions (rta) launched attacks against these countries giving them two options if they wanted to remain alive: to accept faith or to accept a life of subjugation by paying jizyah. None of these nations was an adherent to polytheism in the real sense; otherwise they would have been treated in the same way as the Idolaters of Arabia.
Naseer: When the Mushrikin of Mecca to whom the Prophet preached for 13 years before migration to Medina were not treated as “deserving of death” if they had not fought against him in violation of their treaty, how could the rulers of neighbouring countries be treated as such? These were normal wars following normal rules of warfare. Every aggressor offered similar terms of agreeing to paying tax/tribute or face war. In this case, the option of accepting Islam and avoiding war and paying tribute was also given
It is evident from these details that all these armed campaigns and offensives were not merely qitāl (war), they were in reality a punishment of the Almighty. This punishment, which is meted out to those who deliberately deny the truth is an established practice of Allah. As a Divine scheme, it descended first upon the Idolaters and the People of the Book of Arabia and then to certain other nations outside it. Consequently, this is absolutely certain that fighting those who have deliberately rejected the truth and forcing the vanquished to lead a life of subjugation by imposing jizyah on them is no longer allowed.
In other words, the mere happening of Shahādah by the Almighty through Prophet Muhammad (sws) in Arabia was enough to conclusively convey the truth to the rulers of neighbouring countries to whom the Prophet (sws) wrote these letters. Any evasion on their part was tantamount to a deliberate denial of the truth. As a result, they had to face the wrath of God in the form of attacks launched by the Companions (rta) after the departure of the Prophet (sws). The common masses of these countries were also observers of the divine judgement which took place in Arabia, and hence to them also the truth was conclusively conveyed. Any individual inquiry from them about the truth would of course have been treated in the same manner as it was in the case of Idolaters of Arabia. It is thus obvious that these attacks launched by the Companions (rta) were part of this divine scheme and after their departure, Muslims cannot wage war to punish people for not accepting Islam.
Naseer: There was never any war waged against anyone for their “disbelief” and neither does the Quran allow such a war to be waged in the name of Allah. The problem with such “misinterpretations” is that if the argument “The common masses of these countries were also observers of the divine judgement which took place in Arabia, and hence to them also the truth was conclusively conveyed and they had become deserving of death if they were polytheists or living in subjugation if they were monotheists” is to be accepted, then the argument that the truth is more conclusively conveyed to all in this age of information is much stronger, which fuels extremism and scholars like Javed Ghamidi are brushed aside as hypocrites for saying it does not apply today. The fatal error is in the gross misinterpretation of the Quran ignoring its clear meaning and invoking abrogated paradigms from past scriptures to misrepresent the wars waged by the Prophet as wars against disbelief, when the Quran does not allow a war to be waged against anyone for disbelief, but proclaims “let there be no compulsion in religion”.
Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He is a frequent contributor to NewAgeIslam.com
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