By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009
The caption is as harsh as the truth bitter. To some, it may sound a sweeping generalization informed by highly exaggerated and distorted reports by the unsympathetic Western media. Therefore, as a preamble to this discourse the author will like to quote some of the intellectual icons of Islam of the last two centuries, lest the Muslim readership may take it as propagandist or otherwise, fail to grasp its significance.
Syed al-Afghani (1838-1897) compared the Ulama of his time with the dwindling flame at the fag end of a narrow wick, “that neither lights its surroundings nor gives light to others”. Shaykh Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905), one time Mufti of Egypt and a disciple of al-Afghani was more vocal and incisive. He said: “Most of what goes today under the name of Islam is not Islam at all. It may only have preserved the outer shell of the Islamic ritual of prayer, fasting and pilgrimage, as well as some sayings, which have been however perverted by allegorical interpretations. All these sinister accretions and superstitions that found their way into Islam brought about the stagnation that now pass under the name of religion” . Altaf Hussain Hali (1837-1914) exclaimed “If one wants to see a (community's) decline exceeding all limits - he can see the inability of Islam to rise after its downfall .” Muhammad Iqbal lamented: “What to speak of this world, even the heavens cry at the crookedness of your vision – It is a curse that you have distorted the lines of the Qur’an .”
These outbursts are self explanatory and point, loud and clear to a process of degeneration that is has been stalking the Islamic faith over the past centuries and only gaining momentum with time. With this we come to the caption of this discourse – the harsh and bitter present day reality.
The populist Islam is defined today by three major components of its secondary theological discourses: the Classical Law (Sharia) which the Muslims regard as the embodiment of the Qur’anic guidance; the Hadith corpus representing the Sunna or normative ways of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh); and the Sira - the biography of the Prophet and the history of his mission. Traditionally, the Qur’an is regarded purely as a liturgical text and does not inform the worldview of the Muslims. This is partly because of reverential remoteness of the Qur’an, but mainly due to a covert policy of the of dynastic rulers, supported by feudal lords, the male elite and the orthodox Ulama to keep Muslim masses ignorant of the egalitarian, humanistic, gender neutral and pluralistic message of the Qur’an. Hence, the roots of the growing fear and hatred of Islam – Islamophobia must be searched in the secondary theological sources as they collectively shape the thinking, attitude and responses of the Muslim masses.
The Classical Islamic law (Sharia) is a cumulative juristic tradition that encompasses the legal responsa (fatawa) and opinions (rai) of all the past jurists of Islam. Accordingly, it is shaped and informed by the customs, traditions, social and political conditions, juristic norms and the state of knowledge of the diverse historical points of Islamic civilization - dating from the founding Caliphate (632-661/10-40 AH) through the medieval ages to this day. Thus, it is repository of, among countless noble rulings, such ignoble notions as stoning to death for adultery, capital punishment for apostasy and blasphemy, slavery, discrimination and hatred against non-Muslims, temporary marriage, on the spot divorce, rape law, honour killing, full veiling of women, gender segregation, parental immunity against child abuse for example, that are antithetic to human rights charters as well as to the Qur’anic message.
The Hadith discourses were first compiled by two of the greatest scholars of Islam, Imam Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari (194-256 AH/ 810-870 CE) and Imam Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj (202-261/817-875) more than two hundred years after the Prophet’s death. Their works are regarded most authentic in the mainstream Sunni Islam. However, it was technically impossible for these scholars to ascertain the truthfulness of the accounts they screened. Firstly, their number ran in hundreds of thousands – an astronomical figure that is a mathematical impossibility for any mortal to screen in a critical and erudite manner (at ten accounts per day, it will take 60 years to screen 200,000 accounts). Secondly the only criterion they employed to ascertain the authenticity of an account was to ensure that the key people in its transmission chain stretching back to the Prophet’s era (some seven to eight generations) were known to be pious, as there was no other background information against the ahadith. Accordingly, a great many forged and fabricated accounts found their way into the authentic (Sahih) corpus . While most of the accounts in their compilations catered to the theological and civilizational needs of the times and represented the state of the art in knowledge of that era, there are some accounts, that, taken on face value, purport to provoke sexuality, induce terrorism, foment inter-faith hatred, and stand deeply misogynist, scientifically untenable, self contradictory and Qur’an-incompatible . The great Imams, the most learned and pious men of their era were cognizant of the ingress of forged and fabricated ahadith (accounts) in their compilations, but they were not in a position to delete the suspect ahadith as long as they met their criteria of screening as mentioned above. Accordingly they warned the community and posterity about it .
The Sira of the Prophet – first published by Ibn Hisham (d. 218/834) around a hundred and seventy years after the Prophet’s death based entirely on oral accounts is suffused with speculative accretions and sensational and emotional underpinnings commensurate to the taste and temperament of its immediate audience. Taken on face value, ignoring the literary anachronism that marks all ancient works, its scattered poetic imageries have been pieced together to project the Prophet of Islam as “a man that slaughtered captives, robbed caravans, sold women and children into slavery, had sexual relations with captive women, tortured prisoners, married a nine-year-old, forced his adopted son to divorce his wife so Muhammad could have her as a wife mandated war against non-Muslims, and who had some of his critics and rivals assassinated .
Lay as well as educated Muslims, stark ignorant of the ingress of grossly anti-Qur’anic materials into their overgrown theological discourses (the Classical Sharia, the Hadith and the Sira) are aghast at the West’s perception of Islam. The Muslim theologians and jurists on the other hand are well aware of the retention of materials in their theological discourses that are no more than “lethal accretions and fables” . But they disregard them as week, unreliable, forged and fabricated. Their explanation, however, does not hit the media and neither flies well in the face of the Islam-critics or the radicalised Muslims.
Until recent times, the presence of lethal and legendary materials in Islamic secondary discourses created no problem. The common Muslims stood miles apart from their encyclopaedic theological discourses. For them, religion was restricted to the five pillars of faith and to normative conduct and behaviour (adab) and moral heritage that permeated the Islamic civilization. Their jurists and theologians focused on what they thought were relevant to the times and circumvented all that was pernicious and preposterous – knowing full well that these were the inevitable scourges and embellishments of history that marked all major religions. The recent decades, however, have seen an increasing role and publicity of what is pernicious and ignoble in Islam’s theological discourses. Thus, the Muslims waging armed struggle against unjust regimes, occupying forces, or otherwise killing and terrorizing innocent civilians draw on the Classical Islamic Law, the Hadith and the Sira. Some Muftis draw on them to issue outlandish fatwas. The educated youth and intelligentsia, keen to disown the moral biddings and egalitarian underpinnings of Islam quote from them to malign their faith and justify their disregard of its social, moral and ethical tenets. Some Muslim states are employing them to oppress and marginalize their minority communities, and for political victimization and religiously cloaked propagandist campaigns. Thus, what is forged and fabricated in Islam has virtually eclipsed all that is noble, beautiful and magnanimous in it – by none but the Muslims themselves. This has led to a virtual petrifaction of Islam with its consequential terror fallout that has drawn the wrath and condemnation of the whole world.
With international crackdown on terrorist outfits post 9/11, terrorism against innocent civilians has given way to radicalization of Islam: feeding youth with intense hate inspiring materials from Islamic theological discourses to lure them into acts of terror, often as suicide bombers. Radicalization in turn feeds Islamophobia that draws on the most horrendous elements of Islam’s theological discourses to inspire the Western Islam-ignorant public with fear and hatred of Islam and the Muslims.
In light of an undeniable influence of Islam’s theological discourses (including the Classical Sharia and the Sira) in the veritable petrifaction of the Islamic faith as enshrined in the Qur’an, and in feeding the twin terrible menace of this era – Radicalization of Islam and Islamophobia, it is imperative for the Muslims to treat their theological discourses in their historical perspective as classical subjects in the higher academy, as happened in the past with other major theological disciplines – notably the asbab al nuzul and diverse schools of law. Since their primary source of guidance - the Qur’an is preserved in its original form, and free from all kinds of lethal and sinister accretions and space time specificity as with the Classical Sharia, Hadith and the early biographic accounts (Sira), they can home in on it to evolve a broader, altruistic and universal interpretation of its message. And that is certainly not impossible as reviewed in a forthcoming article.
The suggestion, however, is not to throw the baby out with the bath water. The rich heritage of Islamic Law can be continued to be taught at the higher level of academy. The Hadith and Sira must be stripped of the embellishments, colourful accounts, gossips and lethal accretions  and consolidated to preserving the legacy of the Prophet, no less his companions, as consistent with the Qur’anic ideals.
1. John L. Esposito, Islam in Transition, Oxford University Press, New York 1982, p. 18
2. Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, English translation by Ismail Ragi, 8th edition, Karachi 1989, p. 584.
3. Maddu jazar e Islam, 4th and 6th stanza
4. Bange dara - tasweere dard, Verse 42.
5. Early Imam’s warnings regarding the ingress of forged and fabricated accounts into their compilations:
• Imam al-Bukhari’s compilation quotes the Prophet: “Why do people impose conditions which are not in Allah’s book (kitab il lah)? Whoever imposes such conditions as are not in Allah’s Laws (kitab il lah), then that condition is invalid even if he imposes one hundred such conditions, for Allah’s conditions (as stated in the Qur’an) are truth and more valid” - Sahih al-Bukhari, English translation by Mohsin Khan, New Delhi 1984, Acc. 364, 735/Vol.3.
• Imam al Muslim declares "If we discuss about all those accounts which are held authentic (Sahih) before the learned, and suspect by a critical scholar (who demands a proof of personal meeting between the narrators and transmitters of Hadith in each generation), we would simply be tired (because they are so large in number)." … “This argument is novel in its approach, and it is wrong that early scholars did not believe in this. Neither is its denial by those who came later, any ground for its repudiation... and God is there to help repudiate what is wrong in the religion of the learned and I trust in Him” – Sahih al-Muslim, Urdu translation by Wahiduz Zaman, Aeteqad Publishing House, New Delhi (year not mentioned), extracted from the muqaddimah.
6. Criminals of Islam by Dr. Shabbir Ahmed
7. Andrew J. Stunich, American Lawyer, in his posting April 01, 2010, in Amazon.com under, John Esposito’s book, Future of Islam.
Sep. 15, 2012.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.