By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam
29 November 2018
The following three verses of the Quran complement each other:
الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِي وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ الْإِسْلَامَ دِينًا
(5:3) This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.
لَا إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ ۖ قَد تَّبَيَّنَ الرُّشْدُ مِنَ الْغَيِّ ۚ فَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِالطَّاغُوتِ وَيُؤْمِن بِاللَّهِ فَقَدِ اسْتَمْسَكَ بِالْعُرْوَةِ الْوُثْقَىٰ لَا انفِصَامَ لَهَا ۗ وَاللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ
(2:256) Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.
مَّا كَانَ مُحَمَّدٌ أَبَا أَحَدٍ مِّن رِّجَالِكُمْ وَلَٰكِن رَّسُولَ اللَّهِ وَخَاتَمَ النَّبِيِّينَ ۗ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمًا
(33:40) Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but (he is) the Messenger of Allah, and the Seal of the Prophets: and Allah has full knowledge of all things.
It makes sense for Muhammad (pbuh) to be the last of the prophets only if through his prophetic mission, Allah has perfected His religion, and made Truth stand out clear from Error for all time to come. If there was any chance of Truth once again becoming unclear from Error, Allah would have provided for another prophet to come and complete the task of making the truth become clear from error, until which time, He would have allowed compulsion in religion, since we could not invite people to Allah’s religion based on reason alone, as long as the Truth was not clear from error. We therefore understand the mission of the last prophet Muhammad was to give us the perfect Book the Quran, which makes the Truth stand out clear from Error, and to demonstrate through his mission that no compulsion in religion is required. That his mission was not to compel people to Allah’s religion, is the message reinforced at every stage of his mission. Consider the following verses:
(109:6) To you (peaceful rejecter of Islam) be your Way, and to me mine.
(10:99) If it had been thy Lord´s will, they would all have believed,- all who are on earth! wilt thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe!
2:272. It is not required of thee (O Messenger), to set them on the right path, but Allah sets on the right path whom He pleaseth.
To summarise, the following are the essential characteristics of the mission of the last Messenger of Allah:
1. That the last messenger was sent when the people, through the efforts of the earlier prophets, had been civilized to an extent where they could distinguish between right and wrong based on their cumulative civilisational experience and reason. This was not the case with the earlier people since the moral principles are both counter intuitive and against the pleasure-seeking nature of man. Mankind has been civilized over a long period (seventy thousand years according to one estimate) through progressive revelations and continuous stream of prophets averaging 50 to 60 contemporaneous prophets spread across the world at any point in time upto the last prophet Muhammad (pbuh) or thereabouts.
2. The progressive revelations on completion must result in perfecting the religion of Allah and giving it complete shape for all the divine guidance needed by man for success in this world and in the Hereafter.
3. Truth must be made distinct from Error since there are no more prophets to come for guidance. This also obviates the need for compulsion in religion since reason alone is enough. Mankind thus achieved its full potential as a moral agent having been given complete freedom in the matter of making moral choices.
If Truth stands out clear from Error, does it mean that all the people will accept the Truth?
No, it does not mean that all the people will accept the Truth, because only those will accept the Truth who incline towards the truth and those who deliberately reject the Truth will stray away from the Truth. We know this from our experience.
(10:100) No person can believe, except by the will of Allah, and He will place doubt (or obscurity) on those who will choose not to understand.
(101) Say: "Behold all that is in the heavens and on earth"; but neither Signs nor Warners profit those who choose to believe not.
For more on the subject, read: Who Are Those Who Will Believe And Those Who Will Not?
The meaning of verse 256 is quite clear and its applicability both to the times of the prophet and beyond, until eternity. To consider it inapplicable to the Prophet’s times would mean that mankind was not yet ready to receive the last prophet and the Quran (last Book), and to consider it abrogated would mean that Truth has once again become unclear from Error and prophet Muhammad’s mission was a failure (Nauzobillah). The Quran by itself is enough to make clear the meaning of the verses and the relevant context. The three cited verses taken together complement each other making the meaning of each verse clear and providing the complete context. Having considered the three cited verses together, it is unthinkable to consider any of the three verses without the other two. For example, how can Muhammad (pbuh) be the last prophet and Allah’s religion be still incomplete and the Truth not distinct from Error? How can man become a complete moral agent if there is compulsion in religion? How can man choose the Truth if it is not made clear from Error? The three cited verses are possible only in the last Book and not in any earlier scriptures after which there is no more any need to send more messengers.
The Dissenting Voices of Scholars
While the Quran is enough by itself for complete guidance, the Muslims have created many sources of misguidance. Some Quranic exegetes state that Qur'an 2:256 has been abrogated by the following verses:
O Prophet! Strive against the Kuffara and the Munafiqin! Be harsh with them.... (9:73)
O ye who believe! Fight those of the kuffar who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you.... (9:123)
Say unto those of the wondering Arabs who were left behind: Ye will be called against a folk of mighty prowess to fight them until they surrender.... (48:16)
The verses regarding fighting have only one objective and that is to end the religious persecution practiced by the persecutors among the people. The objective of the fighting was not to compel the people to accept Islam nor is these verses applicable to those who had rejected Islam but were not hostile. This topic is discussed in detail in my articles:
The exegetes, who argue otherwise, do so without a basis and against the clear meaning of the verses. They “interpret” or in other words take meaning that deviates from the clear literal meaning of the verses. They distort the clear message of the Quran. Exegetes who take such liberties with the Quran must be shunned.
Context of Revelation
Some scholars try to confuse the issue by citing inappropriate context of revelation to dilute the unmistakable meaning of the verse. The various opinions of the Qur'anic commentators regarding the circumstances surrounding the revelation (Shan-i-Nuzul) of Qur'an 2:256: a. the revelation blocked an Ansar woman from forcing her Jewish boy to convert to Islam; b. the revelation blocked an Ansar father from forcing his two Christian sons to convert to Islam; c. the revelation permitted a member of the People of the Book to retain his religion.
It is not surprising that the verse prevented several attempts at compelling people to accept Islam. This is the effect of the revelation of the verse and not its cause. It is poor scholarship to confuse the effect with cause! The context of revelation as explained, is the fact that Allah has perfected the religion, made Truth stand out clear from error, which obviates any need for compulsion. It also achieves Allah’s purpose of giving full moral agency to man to enable him to become Allah’s viceregent on the Earth if he so chooses.
Some Scholars Prevaricate
Shah Wali Ullah appears to have said on one occasion that the application of such a verse (2:256) is not confined to the incidents cited as the context. "On the contrary, the verse should be held to convey the commandment contained therein, generally" is what he is believed to have said. The same Shah Wali Ullah who, after giving the normal meaning, adds:
“That is to say, the reasoned guidance of Islam has become manifest. Therefore, so to speak, there is no compulsion, although, in sum, there may be coercion!”
Nawab Siddiq Hasan Khan in Fath al-Bayan:
“... one should not say of a person convened to Islam under the shadow of the sword, that he was compelled to the Faith for "there is no compulsion in religion".”
He appears to be saying that although a person has been brought under Islam by the sword, yet there is no compulsion in religion!
It is unbecoming of any scholar of Islam to indulge in such double-speak when the meaning is very clear.
Ahadith as the Source of Misguidance
Ibn al-Arabi in his work Ahkam al-Qur'an, declares dogmatically that to compel to the truth is part of the Faith, on the authority of a hadith: "I have been commanded to fight people till they recite the declaration of faith ...", which he considers to have been derived from the Qur'anic verse: "And fight them until persecution is no more and religion is for Allah alone." (8:39; 2:193)
Another construction ... confines the verse to the People of the Scriptures who submitted to the Muslims and agreed to pay Jizyah (poll-tax) but excludes the polytheists from its scope. In the case of the latter, only two alternatives are said to be open - Islam or the sword - on the authority of al-Shabi, al-Hasan, Qatadah and al-Dahhaq.
This is sheer nonsense as discussed in my articles:
3. Ibn-Arabi misinterprets verses 8:39, 2:193 and against their clear literal meaning as explained in my article:The Story of the Prophetic Mission of Muhammad (pbuh) in the Qu’ran (Concluding Part) Summary
The Ahadith, the Shan-e-Nuzul and the commentaries of the past scholars are all sources of misguidance. To correctly understand the Quran, the Quran is enough by itself. The Ahadith especially are a body of misleading literature falsely attributing to the Prophet (pbuh) what he could never have said and must be shunned. The fact that the six “authentic” books of Ahadith are by contemporaneous scholars of Persian origin is suggestive that the compilation was a political project for political reasons. The falsehoods are perpetuated by the Madhab which lays great emphasis on Taqleed or blind following of the rulings of past scholars. Any Madhab of Taqlid goes against the Quran, which rejects the argument of Taqlid from the disbelievers. It is the Quran that makes the Truth stand out clear from Error and not any Hadith or scholar.
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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