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The Meaning of the Quran Resonates With the Aims of Progressive Islam

By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam


07 August 2017


I have read with great interest, Adis Duderja’s article “Progressive Islam as Islamic Liberation Theology”. The meaning of the Quran covering God’s will, and His purpose for creation of man, and the way of life prescribed for him to fulfill that purpose, resonates fully with the aims of Progressive Islam. This may sound surprising but it is true. What we have are translations that are interpretations. We do not have a single work that can be called the meaning of the Quran. The fight against the orthodoxy cannot be won without the help of the Quran. Any movement that is not anchored in the Quran loses legitimacy.

I have written several articles, covering every subject, based on the logically derived meaning of the Quran, as distinct from mere interpretation. Verses containing key words and key concepts such as Kufr, Momin, fighting in the cause of Allah, Shuhuda, Siddiq, people of virtue etc. have been analyzed to precisely define, using rules of logic, their meaning in the Quran – what they mean and what they do not mean. This exercise has yielded tremendous insight into the meaning of the Quran which showed a wide gulf between what the Quran says and Islamic theology.


Possible Reasons for the Wide Gulf

This is not unexpected in a religion which spread very rapidly in a short period and was initially very accommodating of the concepts and ideas from people of other religions who outnumbered the Arabs by a factor 6.  Islamic Shariat was influenced by the practical need to continue with the well-established laws in the conquered lands.  The Ahadith were compiled in the 9th century by At-Tirmidhi (Uzbek died 892), Imam Bukhari – (Uzbek died 870), Abu-Dawud (Persian died 889), Ibn Majah (Persian died 887), Al-Nasai (Persian died 915), Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj (Persian died 875), Ibn Hanbal (Arab died 855). The books of the first six compilers form part of the Kutub Al-Sittah or the six books. The fact that all the six major compilers were contemporaries in the era of Islam’s Golden period under the Abbasid dynasty could be because the compilation may have been a political project to bend Islam to the political compulsions of the Caliph. The Ahadith contradict the Quran on every subject and if these alleged sayings of the Prophet (pbuh) are authentic, then it would appear that the Prophet spent all his life preaching against the message of the Quran!

And yet, these Ahadith were not rubbished, but had a major influence on Islamic theology and this couldn’t have been without political support. The madrasas laid great emphasis on the study of the Ahadith and not on the Quran and this trend continues to this day. The Quran is “interpreted” from the point of view of the Ahadith taking the meaning of the Ahadith as correct. If there is a conflict which cannot be resolved by misinterpreting the Quran, then the verse from the Quran is treated as abrogated!

Islamic theology was dominated by the rationalists for a short period but the traditionalists proved their mettle by successfully warding off the challenge from the “heretical” philosophers during Islam’s golden age. Imam Al-Ghazali (died 1111) was the kingpin of this fight back. The traditionalists won and Islam’s golden age lost its steam. Theology lost its earlier dynamism and spirit of free inquiry and accommodation and became rigid, inward looking and bigoted. It has remained very much frozen somewhere in the 12th century. Imam Ghazali was a giant and remains without a challenge to this day, it would appear.

Early Islam

It would appear that either there wasn’t much of early scholarship or not much of what was written by the scholars of early Islam has survived. The need for scholarship may not have been there. The Quran was Kitabum Mubeen and understood by most people. The need for scholarship arose when the Quran had to be interpreted in the light of the Ahadith. Much of Islamic scholarship therefore conceals the meaning of the Quran rather than brings it out.

Complete Subversion of the Muslim Mind

It would appear that the political and the religious powers collaborated very well to lay down a system which promoted blind imitation, rote learning and mastering of the Ahadith with the result that we have great uniformity in what most scholars say. There do not appear to have been any rebels. We have grown up with ideas such as Kafir means a non-Muslim, that the Prophet was fighting battles against “disbelief”, that we have a soul that is immortal, that there is punishment in the grave, that our soul testified before we were born in Alam-e-Arwah, that our soul will be in Alam-e-Barzakh when we die etc all of which is sheer rubbish and contrary to the Quran, However, if the Quran is read with these meanings and ideas in our head, which is what everyone does, it will be largely misunderstood.

My Articles

When I started writing my articles based on the Quran, I found that what I had to say went against the Ijma or collective wisdom of the scholars. The question that was often asked was whether I was the only one who understood the Quran in all of 1400 years. I cannot speak of all of the 1400 years but from the 12th century onwards, nobody has written what I have discovered.

The series of articles cover the prophetic mission of Muhammad (pbuh) through its vicissitudes over the 23 year period, and discovers both seamless continuity in the message and consistency contrary to the opinion among some circles that the Meccan period verses and message is different from the Medinian period. This is patently incorrect. Neither does any verse of the Quran contradict another verse.

The motivation for the study is the same as that of the Progressive Muslims– dissatisfaction with the Islamic theology vis-à-vis the demands of our times. The approach is however different, and based on the faith that if the Quran is the word of God, then it must lead us to the right path in any era and contain guidance for man based on the eternal moral principles and the unchanging nature of man. I am not trying to make the Quran yield to my ideas of what Islam should be which is what most moderates have been trying to do.

The search started with two key concepts in Islamic theology that have played a major role in determining a Muslim’s relationship with the rest of the world. The first is the meaning of Kufr and the second is the meaning of fighting in the cause of Allah.

Secular definition of Kufr in the Quran

The meaning of Kufr in the Quran that applies to all mankind is, oppression is Kufr and an oppressor is a Kafir. A Momin is one who stands up in the cause of the oppressed and fights against oppression and the oppressors. In the temporal dimension, the faith of the oppressor and the oppressed are immaterial. The only cause which is described as fighting in the cause of Allah is to fight oppression. The Prophet’s battles were against religious persecution and not against disbelief.

This is covered in my following articles:

The Story of the Prophetic Mission of Muhammad (Pbuh) In the Qu’ran (Part 4): The Medinian Period

The Story of the Prophetic Mission of Muhammad (pbuh) in the Qu’ran (Concluding Part) Summary

The Much discussed and debated Medinian Verses Relating to Fighting

The secular definition of Kafir in the Quran is found in my article:

Who is a Muslim in the Quran?

Who is a Momin and who is a Kafir is situational. For example, the Indian army liberated Bangladesh by defeating the Pakistan Army which practiced great oppression on the people of Bangladesh. In this role, the Indian army were the Momineen and the Pakistan army were the Kafirin.

(4:141) ….And never will Allah grant to the Kafirin a way (to triumph) over the Mominin.

The Kafirin suffered a humiliating defeat.

The Meaning of Kufr as It Concerns Belief

The meaning of Kufr in the spiritual dimension or as it concerns the relationship between man and God, is relative to what one knows and believes to be the truth. Only God can judge what Kufr is in the spiritual dimension and not man. The Quran therefore prescribes no punishment for apostasy, heresy, blasphemy and disbelief nor does it authorise waging of war against the “disbelievers”.

This is covered in my article:

Who Is A Kafir In The Quran? (Part 3): Why Kufr Is A Relative Concept While Shirk, Idol Worship Etc. Have Fixed Meanings

Who is a Kafir in the Quran? (Part 4) Defining Kufr

Secular Justice in Islam

The opposite of oppression is justice and denial of justice is oppression. The following articles discuss the importance of secular justice in Islam. There is no Islam in the absence of secular justice.

The Importance of Rendering Justice in Islam

Is the standard of secular justice demanded by the Quran possible without a secular government? This is discussed in:

Is Islam Secular?

Did Jizya Discriminate Based On Religion?

Jizya was implemented in a manner by the Prophet different from what the verse 9:29 says. In its implementation, it was a negotiated settlement between the ruler and his non-Muslim subjects and never had the character of a tax imposed by religion. It made the non-Muslims taxpaying subjects with security guaranteed by the state without the obligation to fight for the state. The non-religious character is further underlined by the fact that only males of military age were required to pay in lieu of serving in the army. Monks, who by their calling do not serve in the army, were exempt from the tax.

This is discussed in my article:

 The Story of the Prophetic Mission of Muhammad (pbuh) From the Qu’ran (Part 6): The People of the Book and Jiziya

Slavery and the Permission to Have Sex with Female Slaves

This is a difficult topic and the acid test of whether the Quran is word of God or not. This topic is discussed in my article:

The Morality or the Immorality of the Institution of Slavery and the Quranic Permission That Allowed Sex with Female Slaves

Search for the True Pillars of Islam

Several articles were written while searching for the true pillars of Islam culminating in finding the three kinds of people on whom is Allah’s grace. The key to it was found in Surah Fatiha which we recite in every Rak’at of our Salat in which we pray to God asking Him to (1:6) Show us the straightway, (7) the way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace (AnʿAmtaʿAlayhim). Who are these people on whom Allah bestows his grace? The answer is found in verse :( 4:69) These are the Siddiq (seekers of the truth and people of true knowledge), the Shuhuda(who are Islam personified) and the Saliheen (those who do good deeds). This is covered in my article:


The Role Models in the Quran


The surprising discovery was that the Shuhuda are not those slain in the cause of Allah but Muslims who are paragons of Islamic virtues who in all their words and deeds reflect the beauty and grace of the faith of Islam. Islamic theology has corrupted the meaning of Shaheed to mean martyr to glorify fighting. This is covered in my article:

The Politics of Religion and the Changing Concept of Shuhuda over the Years

The article also discusses how suicide missions came to be accepted in Islamic theology as legitimate means of waging war.

Ethical Living

The Quran lays great stress on ethical living more that on ritual, these topics are covered in my articles:

Deen-e-Islam or the Moral Way of Living in Islam

Gender Issues

Woman’s Testimony

Islamic jurisprudence errs when it treats two women’s testimony equal to that of one man’s. The Quran merely allows two women the license to witness and testify jointly a legal document. The testimony is joint where the two women together give a single testimony consulting each other. This is a concession, and recommended but not a legal requirement. Discussed under:

Is A Woman’s Testimony Worth Half That of A Man?


Triple Talaq, whether given at a single point in time or on three separate occasions is not the Quranic process for divorce. In the Quran, divorce is a two-stage process with the period of Iddat (three menstrual cycles) intervening. Reconciliation is possible during this period. Else, the divorce becomes irrevocable on their parting at the end of the Iddat period. The number of pronouncements of Talaq is immaterial. The Iddat period must be spent in the husband’s house and this condition must be fulfilled. Reconciliation during this period with mutual consent cannot be prevented.  If the couple had on two previous occasions reconciled and if this is the third time they are going through the divorce process, even then Iddat period is required to be spent in the husband’s house and reconciliation with mutual consent cannot be prevented. Theoretically therefore, there is no limit on how many times the couple may go through the process. Since reconciliation is possible only through mutual consent, the woman may refuse the same in which case she can walk out at the end of the Iddat period. She can also lay conditions for agreeing to reconcile. The Quran maintains the balance of power between the two sexes as closely as possible.

This is discussed in my article:

The Process for Divorce in the Quran

Polygamy, wife beating etc

These issues are discussed in a forthright manner in my article:

Qur’anic Wisdom: Marriage and Treatment of Women

Resonance with the aims of Progressive Islam

It may be noted that the meaning of the Quran supports forming alliances to fight oppression and the faith of the ally and the enemy are immaterial. The Oppressor is Kafir and those who fight the oppressors in the cause of the oppressed, fight in the cause of Allah and are the Momineen.

We pray to God to make us among the people on whom is Allah’s grace and these are the seekers of knowledge and the truth, the paragons of Islamic virtues and those who do virtuous deeds. The stress in Islam is clearly on ethical living

Belief is a matter between man and God and none of anyone else’s business.

Justice in Islam Is Secular.

There is no intent to discriminate against anyone on religious grounds and jiziya in the historical context was not meant to discriminate although the same was misused in later years as an instrument to discriminate and perhaps humiliate. 

Islam stands for balance of power between the sexes and for gender justice

Related Article:

Progressive Islam as Islamic Liberation Theology

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


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