By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam
4 April 2015
Was the Prophet (pbuh) fighting battles to end “disbelief” or to end “Religious Persecution”? Was he fighting the “Disbelievers” or the “Oppressors”? While the answers to these questions have been provided in previous 4 parts of the article, let us explore what Muslims believe the answers to these critical questions are.
Before that, let us keep in mind that the word “Kufr” and “Kafir” are like the words “Sin” and “Sinner” and acquire a precise meaning only from the context. If the sin of theft is being talked about, then the sinner is a thief and you will not mistake him for a murderer. Although this is obvious, it is not kept in mind when it comes to the meaning of “Kafir”, which most translators and scholars take as having the fixed meaning of “those who reject the truth of Islam”. This is untrue and more clearly brought out in my article in 4 parts “Who is a Kafir in the Quran” links to which are provided at the end of this article.
Focus on the verse 8:38 as translated by Mohsin Khan. The verses 8:36 and 8:37 are also translated by the same person.
8:36 Verily, those who disbelieve Kafaru) spend their wealth to hinder (men) from the Path of Allah, and so will they continue to spend it; but in the end it will become an anguish for them. Then they will be overcome. And those who disbelieve will be gathered unto Hell.
8:37 In order that Allah may distinguish the wicked (disbelievers, polytheists and doers of evil deeds) from the good (believers of Islamic Monotheism and doers of righteous deeds), and put the wicked (disbelievers, polytheists and doers of evil deeds) one on another, heap them together and cast them into Hell. Those! it is they who are the losers.
8:38 Say to those who have disbelieved (Kafaru), if they cease (from disbelief) their past will be forgiven. But if they return (thereto), then the examples of those (punished) before them have already preceded (as a warning).
The Arabic verse 8:38 only says, “if they cease/desist”. The question that arises is “desist from what?” Since the subject in 8:36 are the Kafaru who spend their wealth to hinder men from the path of Allah, the simple answer is “if they cease/desist from hindering men from the path of Allah”. This is radically different from saying “if they cease/desist from disbelief”. While the Quran is saying that the battle is against “Religious persecution”, Mohsin Khan is trying to tell us that it is against “disbelief”. It is easy to see that in 8:36 also, Kafaru does not mean “those who disbelieve” but “those who practice religious persecution”. In verse 8:37 also, “wicked” is being sought to include all polytheists and disbelievers whereas the Arabic word only means wicked and from the context the wickedness is religious persecution. For Mohsin Khan, the Arabic word signifying good also becomes all believers in Islamic monotheism! This is a rank communal rendering of the meaning of the Quranic verses!
How do the other translators fare?
Fifteen translators do not add anything in parenthesis to say what the kafaru should desist from. They are: Asad, Shakir, DrlalehBakhtiar, Wahiduddin Khan, TB irving, Abdul Haleem, Abdul MajidDaryabadi, Ahmed Ali, AshaBewley, Hamid S Aziz, Muhammad Mahmoud Ghali, Sahih International,
Talal A. Itani, Bilal Muhammad, The monotheist group
Three translators explain what desist from implies and this is not “unbelief”. They are, Pickthal(desist from persecution of believers) Muhammad Sarwar (desist from evil behavior), Shabbir Ahmed (desist from hostilities), Maududi (desist from evil)
For 12 translators, it is desist from “Unbelief” or its equivalent. They are: Yusuf Ali (from Unbelief), Al'-Muntakhab (renounce infidelity, desist from evil purpose and turn to Allah), Ali Unal: (to disbelieve themselves and prevent others from entering the fold of Islam), Muhammad TaqiUsmani (from infidelity), Syed Vickar Ahamed (from disbelief),Farook Malik (from unbelief), Dr Munir Munshey (their skepticism),Dr. M Tahir ul Qadri (from their blasphemous acts),Ali Quli Qarai [faithlessness], Dr Kamal Omar (from their blasphemous acts),Thanvi (Kufr), Raza Ahmad Khan Barelvi(Kufr Se Baaz Aye Aur Islam Laye). While I agree that becoming a believer would have been the ultimate proof of these people agreeing to desist from past behavior, is this being demanded in the verse?
For all 30 of the translators, Kafaru means an Unbeliever or its equivalent word or description. They therefore have a fixed meaning for “Kafir”. Now the simple question is why should all the “disbelievers” be addressed for the acts of some of them? Is this is not stereotyping? Unfortunately, because every translator takes a fixed meaning for kafir, he ends up stereotyping all “Unbelievers” who range from the peaceful rejecter to the violent rejecter. You can imagine the impact when this is done for all the verses where the term occurs!
A more correct translation would be simply to either stick to the Arabic word Kafaru or say:
8:38 Tell those religious persecutors/oppressors that if they desist, that which is past will be forgiven ….
What they should desist from and what past behavior will be forgiven is then obvious.
The addressees now are the offenders alone; there is no stereotyping and no scope for any misunderstanding. This also leads to a faith neutral rendering of the verse. If these verses have relevance beyond their immediate context of the times of the Prophet, then such a faith neutral rendering can be equally applied in today’s world, to the extremists among those who call themselves Muslim, but practice religious persecution. They can also expect the wrath of Allah to descend on them as indeed it descended twice on the “believing Jews” for similar arrogance and haughtiness.
What is needed therefore is a more faithful translation of the meaning of the Quran and the major issue I think is mistranslation of the keywords used in the Quran such as “kafir”, which for some inexplicable reason, is given a fixed meaning by every translator, when it could mean even those who call themselves Muslim, but indulge in religious persecution. The other issue is of some translators putting in their interpretation in parenthesis what is untenable, and simply a product of their own mind, or that of their predecessors.
Carefully consider the 12 translators who apparently think that the Prophet was fighting against “disbelief”. It includes scholars of every sect and some of them are major influencers such as Thanvi, Tahir ul Qadri and Raza Khan Barelvi. If according to them the Prophet was fighting against “disbelief”, then how can they or their followers refute the ideology of the “Jihadists”? And how do they reconcile 2:256 “Let there be no compulsion in religion” and 109:6 “To you (peaceful Kafir) be your way and to me mine” with what they think the Prophet was fighting against? The fact is that the Prophet and Quran are far above what these people attribute to the Quran and the Prophet (pbuh). It is time the Muslims rose above such narrow minded communal interpretations of the Quran and reject the theology based on such interpretation. Unless they do this, I do not think that they can defeat the ideology of the extremists.
URL to Previous Parts:
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.