By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam
06 March 2019
This article is an attempt to wean away classical Islamic scholarship from the injustice they do to their religion by “(mis)interpreting” the Quran using abrogated paradigms from the previous scriptures. This is an important issue, as ideologically generated extremism in Islam, is a direct result of such “(mis)interpretations”. All the scriptures are from Allah, and there isn’t even an implied criticism of any scriptures or the people following those scriptures. What makes one people superior to another, is their adherence to moral principles and their integrity, and not any real or imagined superiority of their religion or scriptures. In this respect, many Muslims scholars have correctly remarked, that Islam is to be found more among the Jews and the Christians than among Muslims. This disclaimer is necessary to prevent those given to mischief to put a different spin on this article. It is primarily directed at the Classical Islamic scholars, who have failed to understand the Quran, and unwittingly contributed to extremism among Muslims. It is to the credit of the Jews and the Christians that they have dealt with the same problems much better.
In my previous articles cited below, I had traced the development of religion from the creation of Adam, to its perfection and completion with the Quran.
Civilizing the new species that God created some seventy thousand years ago, which was different from all previous creation in its cognitive abilities, was an arduous task. Man’s unique cognitive abilities make him capable of both immense good and immense evil. Religious morality is about making man choose good over evil. Good comes from trust, faith, restraint, accommodation, forgiveness and concern for others. Evil flows from distrust, lack of restraint, vindictiveness, and selfishness. Distrust, killing pro-actively that which threatens, and selfishness have been useful survival skills. Why would man then choose good or evil? To be evil is therefore natural and to choose good is counter intuitive. The task of religion was therefore to make man choose what is counter intuitive. This could only be achieved through compulsion in religion.
Once man practiced religious morality, its usefulness and contribution to survival and propagation of the species became evident in hindsight. Through shared values from a common religion, man learnt to trust people beyond his immediate family and clan and form larger groups of co-operating humans. The moral principles from religion then guided our laws, political and economic systems. Globalization has become possible only through trust in our legal, political and economic systems.
If compulsion was a necessary part of religion to begin with, it was necessary that the Messengers of Allah or the Prophets had to be Kings and Rulers for only a ruler could proclaim laws and ensure their compliance and punish for contravention. Religion therefore commanded submission to the rulers.
Submission to Governing Authorities
1. Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
2. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
3. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.
4. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
5. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
Civilizing New Nations
Prophets were sent to new nations not yet civilized by religion. At the end of the mission, those who believed were saved and those who had rejected belief in Allah were destroyed by an act of Allah. The examples are the people of Noah, Salih, Hud and Shuaib and perhaps many more, but not mentioned in the Quran.
Nations that went back to their evil ways were destroyed completely. The example in the Quran is of the people of the Prophet Lut (AS) but the Old Testament is full of such accounts. For example,
Jeremiah 51:20 “You are my hammer and weapon of war: with you I break nations in pieces; with you I destroy kingdoms.”
Jeremiah was speaking for God when he wrote that God uses other nations to be His “hammer and weapon of war” and even though these nations are not God’s people, He can still sovereignty use other pagan nations to do His work and that might include war. In this verse, God is pronouncing judgment on Babylon and promises Israel that they will be dealt justice “For Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God, the Lord of hosts” (Jer 51:5).
Deuteronomy 20 contains Yahweh’s instructions about war. If a city does not accept Israel’s offer of peace and open its gates, then “when the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it” (verse13). With regard to other cities, the command is (verse 16), “Do not leave anything that breathes.”
For example, the walls of Jericho came tumbling down, and then the Israelites “destroyed with the sword every living thing in it – men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep, and donkeys” (Joshua 6:21). Or consider Joshua 11:20, “For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the Lord had commanded Moses.”
What good was accomplished by all this annihilation? According to a Christian commentator, (beginning of quote), “The spread of wickedness was so pervasive that immorality, degradation, and barbarity invaded every facet of life. Children were sacrificed to pagan gods. Male and female prostitution took place right in the temple as part of the religious rites. Idol worship was rife and the society wholly contaminated. This evil was contagious and God’s people were in danger of being infected as well. God’s awesome judgement was finally unleashed.
Repulsive as it sounds to us today, this ruthless brand of warfare was not technically "genocide." Not in the modern sense of the term. According to most biblical scholars, it was actually an expression of God's judgment upon the Canaanites.
To say this another way, it was neither Joshua nor Moses but the Lord Himself who put the idolatrous nations of the Promised Land to the sword. This is perfectly legitimate from a strictly theological point of view. After all, God is the One who gives life. Accordingly, He also has the authority to take it away. His sentence was simply carried out by the agency of His chosen people, Israel. To quote one commentator, "The Canaanite civilization was so totally corrupt that coexisting with them would have been a serious threat to the survival and spiritual welfare of the Hebrew nation. Israel here is God's instrument of judgment against those who refuse to honour Him." (End of quote)
Warfare after the Quran
While there is seamless continuity in the moral and ethical principles through the ages, the Quran makes a radical break from the previous scriptures as it concerns:
1. The justification for making war
2. The treatment of the vanquished people
3. Criminal laws
Religious Wars Or Fighting In The Cause Of Allah
All the verses relating to fighting in the Quran, are for fighting in the cause of Allah. What is the meaning of fighting in the cause of Allah? It means to end religious persecution and oppression consisting of turning people out of their homes or places of worship for no other reason except their faith or hindering them from practicing their faith or torturing them for their faith. See verses 22:39, 40, 2:191 to 193, 2:217, 2:246, 4:75, 8:36-39. It also means to fight to defend any oppressed people (4:74 and 4:75)
Who Are The People Against Whom Fighting Is Ordained?
Fighting is not ordained against the Muslims, Christians, Jews, polytheists, idolaters, atheists or person(s) of any faith, but only against those who oppress other people for their faith no matter what the faith professed by the oppressors and the oppressed may be.
Treatment of the Vanquished People
The Meccan polytheists who had fought the Prophet to annihilate him, Islam and the Muslims contravening a peace treaty, were given four month amnesty during which they were free to move about and migrate to a neighbouring country or accept Islam or be killed. No one was killed and no one was enslaved. They either migrated or accepted Islam.
All other polytheists who may have fought, but never contravening a treaty, had the right to retain their faith and live in the new polity by becoming jiziya paying citizens. The jiziya was levied only on males of military age and ability, and exempted them from conscription. It was a tax for protecting citizens who were not required to take up arms for the defence of the nation. No one was enslaved.
While in other battles, the Muslims enslaved prisoners of war based on norms followed by the other side perhaps, there is no verse in the Quran that calls for enslavement of any people for any reason. The battles with their main enemy, the polytheists of Mecca, were completely free from enslaving the prisoners of war. They were released on payment of ransom and also without ransom if they could not afford it.
The Quran does not prescribe any punishment for blasphemy and apostasy reinforcing the principle of “No compulsion in religion”.
The punishment for an established case of adultery with four eye-witness testimonies is reduced from stoning to death in the previous scriptures to a hundred lashes.
What Is There In the Previous Scriptures and Completely Passed Over In the Quran and Therefore Abrogated?
The Quran, no longer sanctions 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”.
Their Renaissance was greatly influenced by Islam. The reaction to the excesses of the Church also made them reassess the influence of Religion on every aspect of their lives including waging war. We have seen how anachronistic the verses regarding war seem in the previous scriptures, although these may have made good sense in the past. We have also seen that Islam has a completely different way of fighting wars and dealing with the vanquished based on its own scriptures, while paying obeisance to the same God and recognizing all the Judeo-Christian prophets as their own. It is not surprising therefore, that the war related verses in the earlier scriptures that the Quran had abrogated some seven centuries earlier, the Christians now decided were no longer relevant. Many of their criminal laws such as on blasphemy and apostasy also belonged to the past and had no place once the Quran had ruled that “there was to be no compulsion in religion” anymore.
Moderate Judeo-Christian scholarship
We therefore find the Christians and the Jews pass over much of what is in their scriptures. Some of them try to explain away these violent verses as metaphors and argue that these are not meant to be taken literally while we know from history that these were followed in letter and spirit. That they no longer follow what is abrogated by the Quran is good. It is understandable that scriptures meant only for a period, become no longer tenable when civilization advances. The followers of these previous scriptures therefore find it impossible to take these seriously anymore. The Islam of the Quran, coming as it is at the end of the revelatory process, is both a “perfected and complete religion” and valid for all time. There is nothing indefensible about making fighting oppression the only justifiable cause for war and completely ruling out fighting against “disbelief” saying “Let there be no compulsion in religion” and “To you (rejecter of Islam) be your religion and to me mine”.
Classical Islamic Scholarship
The problem however is that classical Islamic scholarship “interprets” the Quran using the Judeo-Christian paradigms and extensively quotes verses from Deuteronomy to justify their “interpretations”, rather than take the simple, straightforward meaning of the Quran. In their thinking, there is seamless continuity from the past, overlooking the fact that the Quran makes a radical break from the past and there is nothing common between what was prescribed in the past and what the Quran prescribes. How they get the whole story and plot wrong, is covered in my article:
To know the extent to which the paradigm of war in Deuteronomy is (mis)used by even the most moderate scholar Javed Ghamidi, to “(mis)interpret” the Quran, read:
This is a new category of Muslims post 911. They are a confused lot. They have little direct knowledge and understanding of the Quran and the previous Scriptures. They blindly repeat what the moderate Judeo-Christian scholars say. Without doubt, taking the Old Testament verses on war literally is no longer tenable and therefore literalism and fundamentalism among the Christians and Jews are a grave problem. The Muslim moderates parroting their Judeo-Christian counterparts, blame extremism on literalism. The fact is that with the Quran, the “interpretations” based on the paradigms of the past which the classical Islamic scholars make, is a huge problem. Fundamentalism based on such “interpretations’ is problematic. Literalism is however not the problem because Islam is literally and fundamentally a religion of peace and has little in common with the previous scriptures as it concerns war and the “other” or non-Muslim. This will be evident to anyone who reads:
2. Allah Provides A Level Playing Field To People of all Faiths
The Muslim moderates lacking knowledge and understanding of the scriptures and of history, are Quixotic in their fight with the “perfected and complete religion”. They make a fool of themselves with the Muslims as well as with the non-Muslims. They have their own articles of faith which have nothing to do with Islam and the Truth, but what will make them acceptable in western society post 911.
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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