Profound Rethinking by Muslims of The Meanings of Their Holy Texts and Traditions

{Editor’s Note: Most of us in the West have very little familiarity with the complexities of sophisticated intellectual and theological debate that takes place in the Islamic world. Just as in the Jewish world a tradition of interpretation developed which takes harsh or even cruel elements in our Torah and reinterprets them to “really mean” something more in tune with the subsequent development of Jewish ethical consciousness (e.g. “an eye for an eye” reinterpreted to mean financial compensation for the losses experienced by someone who has lost an eye or the injunction to wipe out Amalek later understood to refer to wiping out the kind of hurtfulness that Amalek had engaged in toward the Israelites), so in the world of Islamic theologians there has been a constant process of reinterpretation and contextualization of parts of the Koran and other holy texts to reflect the ongoing spiritual and ethical growth of Islamic teachers and scholars. And of course, just as we in the Jewish world find ourselves challenging extremists among the West Bank settlers and their cheerleaders in many synagogues around the world as they seek to justify through reference to Torah or other holy texts their occupation and cruelty toward the Palestinian people, our Muslim allies are engaged in a similar struggle to challenge those who, like , Isis, the Taliban, and the Saudi Arabian Wahabi interpreters of Islam,  have appropriated the Koran and subsequent elements of their holy tradition to justify terrorism, murder, rape of captive women, and more. In each case, the struggle is of great importance to the extent that it wins people to a worldview of love and generosity. I invite you to read the two articles in discussion below by two inspired Muslim thinkers.  As in the case of so many discussions in the Jewish world, it starts in the middle of an ongoing conversation. — Rabbi Michael Lerner  rabbilerner.tikkun@gmail.com} .

Ifterkah Jai:


I want to form a really globally acceptable answer to 9:29 that Mohammed Asad translate as, “ Fight against those who – despite having been vouchsafed revelation [aforetime] -do not [truly] believe either in God or the Last Day, and do not consider forbidden that which God and His Apostle have forbidden, and do not follow the religion of truth [which God has enjoined upon them] till they [agree to] pay the exemption tax with a willing hand, after having been humbled [in war].

My tentative answer is below:  Please help me to improve…………….thanks
1) An educated Muslim has reverence for every Holy Scripture given to all the major religions of the world as per Quran“To every people was sent an Apostle to teach them in their own language in their own country – making things clear” 10:47, 14:4 & 16:36.  Hence a educated Muslim believes that Hindus, Buddhist and even Confucius followers also had divine masters and Holy Scriptures.  The Christians and Jews are also highly respected as well as their Holy Scriptures by every educated Muslim.

2) Every religion had fought to cleanse the wicked, the murderers, the unjust, the fascists from their faiths.  Mahabharata stories are well known.  Wars of Asoka when he was Hindu is well known and why Asoka converted to Buddhism is also known all over the world.  Gautama Buddha was a Hindu and he revolted against unjust practices of Hinduism and founded new non-violent religion.  The history of Jainism is also known to educated people.
The Buddhists and Hindus had bloody wars to stop the “evil from taking over.”  Krishna advice to Arjun is well known and recorded.

3) Roman Christianity made wars with Protestant groups for centuries.  Europe has had the bloodiest history.

4) Settlers from Europe mercilessly committed genocide of native Americans (Red Indians) and now we all live on those very lands that once were occupied by Native American tribes.  The British settlers of Australia and New Zealand also adopted to kill aborigines who lived on those lands for centuries.

Human history has gone through cleansing and reformation to bring out the good and controlling evil.  Every religious community has undergone change.

5) The Quran also acknowledges the evil elements living during the times of Prophet Mohammed as quoted in 9:29 and other verses.  Those verses must be studied in historical context only.  They belong in the days of constant warfare and turmoil.  Those days are gone for ever.  Those people are gone forever who fought. 

Just like Americans had war of Independence with the British imperialists, just like Indians (Hindus and Muslims) fought the British rule all over Hindustan, THOSE DAYS ARE BURIED IN HISTORICAL CONTEXT FOR EVER.

The chapter on war in Quran is not relevant in the 21st century.  It rightfully belong in the 6th century Arabia which was full of war culture.  Prophet Mohammed came to change that culture.  It is morally wrong to quote one verse here and one verse there from the Quran that advises on how to defeat the aggressors, the fascist, the plunderers and killers who lived in 6th century as applicable today in the 21st century.

People who do so are not fully informed or educated.  Today every religion is undergoing change.  Hinduism is still cleansing itself of caste system.  Modern nations have Constitution. And educated people with GLOBAL AWARENESS look for common grounds to form better community.  All Holy Scriptures contain verses of naked violence.  They have to be understood and interpreted in historical context as work in progress by the Divine to reform humans.  All religions and its adherents are closely connected through technology and scientific development.
We all should form a global community and never preach hatred, bigotry or racial superiority.  Never judge collectively any group of people who belong to any faith.  This will be doing injustice to the Divine that wants all to judge individually.

Iftekhar Hai, President                                                                                                                                                                                                                          UMA Interfaith Alliance

Response from Jeremy Henzell Thomas

Dear Iftekhar


May God bless you for your humanity in promoting the principles of religious pluralism and interfaith cooperation and understanding.


Your point about historical context is very important and applies to other verses in the Qur’an too, but with regard to your comments on 9:29, it is helpful to refer to the extensive commentary by Muhammad Asad on the verse. His first two notes are as follows (my emphasis in bold):

 

‘In accordance with the fundamental principle – observed throughout my interpretation of the Qur’ān – that all of its statements and ordinances are mutually complementary and cannot, therefore, be correctly understood unless they are considered as parts of one integral whole, this verse, too must be read in the context of the clear-cut Qur’anic rule that war is permitted only in self-defence (see 2:190-194, and the corresponding notes). In other words, the above injunction to fight is relevant only in the event of aggression committed against the Muslim community or state, or in the presence of an unmistakable threat to its security: a view which has been shared by that great Islamic thinker, Muḥammad `Abduh. Commenting on this verse, he declared: “Fighting has been made obligatory in Islam only for the sake of defending the truth and its followers…. All the campaigns of the Prophet were defensive in character; and so were the wars undertaken by the Companions in the earliest period [of Islam]” (Manār X, 332).

 

‘The term “apostle” is obviously used here in its generic sense and applies to all the prophets on whose teachings the beliefs of the Jews and the Christians are supposed to be based – in particular, to Moses and (in the case of the Christians) to Jesus as well (Manār X, 333 and 337). Since, earlier in this sentence, the people alluded to are accused of so grave a sin as willfully refusing to believe in God and the Last Day (i.e., in life after death and man’s individual responsibility for his doings on earth), it is inconceivable that they should subsequently be blamed for comparatively minor offences against their religious law: consequently, the stress on their “not forbidding that which God and His apostle have forbidden” must refer to something which is as grave, or almost as grave, as disbelief in God. In the context of an ordinance enjoining war against them, this “something” can mean only one thing – namely, unprovoked aggression: for it is this that has been forbidden by God through all the apostles who were entrusted with conveying His message to man. Thus, the above verse must be understood as a call to the believers to fight against such – and only such – of the nominal followers of earlier revelation as deny their own professed beliefs by committing aggression against the followers of the Qur’ān (cf. Manār X, 338).’


I would also refer to some extracts from my Introduction to The Book of Hadith published by the Book Foundation, especially those relating to the most oft-quoted hadith in Bukhari, If anyone leaves his religion, then kill him. As I wrote: ‘This can be questioned on the grounds that its chain of transmission (isnad) goes through a source whose narrations were rejected by Imam Muslim because of the accusations of some scholars that the man concerned (‘Ikrimah) was a liar who also accepted gifts from various political authorities. Besides, the content of this hadith would also apply to anyone changing his religion to Islam, or from Christianity to Judaism or vice versa, and this clearly contradicts the Prophet’s  command that No one is to be turned away from their Judaism or Christianity.


‘But the widespread assumption that Islam pronounces death for apostasy (ridda, irtidad) can be most persuasively challenged and definitively rejected from the evidence of the Qur’an and the actions of the Prophet  and his Companions. The Qur’an repeatedly and unequivocally states that faith and denial are matters of personal choice in which there can be no coercion or interference, and that, in accordance with what Muhammad Asad describes as a fundamental principle of Islamic ethics, each human soul must take personal responsibility for the consequences of that choice:

 

There shall be no coercion in matters of faith (2:256).

And say: The truth has now come from your Sustainer: let, then, him who wills, believe in it, and let him who wills, reject it (18:29).

Behold, from on high have We bestowed upon thee this divine writ, setting forth the truth for the benefit of all mankind. And whoever chooses to be guided thereby, does so for his own good, and whoever chooses to go astray, goes but astray to his own hurt: and thou hast not the power to determine their fate (39:41).

 

The Qur’an also makes it clear that the Messengers of God are only warners and bringers of glad tidings without any power to coerce or enforce:

 

I am nothing but a warner, and a herald of glad tidings unto people who will believe (7:188).

But if they turn away from thee, O Prophet, remember that thy only duty is a clear delivery of the message entrusted to thee (16:82).

 

Furthermore, the Qur’an teaches that differences in belief are aspects of the diversity which God has ordained for human beings and that only God can give a final verdict on such differences:

Unto every one of you have We appointed a different law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but He willed it otherwise in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you. Vie, then, with one another in doing good works! Unto God you all must return and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ (5:48).

For never would thy Sustainer destroy a community for wrong beliefs alone so long as its people behave righteously towards one another. And had thy Sustainer so willed, He could surely have made all mankind one single community: but He willed it otherwise, and so they continue to hold divergent views -  all of them, save those upon whom thy Sustainer has bestowed His grace. (11:117-119).

And on whatever you may differ, O believers, the verdict thereon rests with God (42:10).

Qur’an 5:48 above has been described as a “virtual manifesto of religious pluralism” and “a structural guarantee for the survival of more than one religion and every Muslim should know it by heart”. In his note to the same verse, Muhammad Asad explains how “unity in diversity” is frequently stressed in the Qur’an (as, for example, in the first sentence of 2:148, in 21:92-93, or in 23:52) and describes 11:118 as stressing once again “that the unceasing differentiation in men’s views and ideas is not incidental but represents a God-willed, basic factor of human existence.”

Finally, the Qur’an does not lay down any legal penalty for apostasy; rather it addresses the consequences of spiritual regressionthe falling back and willful denial of the truth after having accepted it, and this would apply to the followers of any religious community, not solely the Muslims.

As for anyone who denies God after having once attained to faith – and this, to be sure, does not apply to one who does it under duress, the while his heart remains true to his faith, but only to him who willingly opens up his heart to a denial of the truth: upon all such falls God’s condemnation, and tremendous suffering awaits them(16:106).

This, and other verses such as 47:25 which refer to those who turn their backs on the message after guidance has been given to them, can legitimately be regarded as referring to the willful denial of truth in its widest sense, and not to the act of leaving institutional Islam.

The notes from Muhammad Asad on 9:29 with which I began this email, point the way back to the hadith reported in Bukhara about  apostasy. One of these requires death for one who deserts Islam and who is also fighting against God and His Messenger. This is often quoted without any reference to its militant context. The apostates implicated here are those who were committing unprovoked aggression against the followers of the Qur’an and against whom defensive warfare was therefore legitimately enjoined. 

The actions of the Prophet  himself give no credence to the belief that apostates who were not waging unprovoked war on Muslims should be killed. Several individuals and groups left Islam during the life of the Prophet, some of them several times, but he never called for their death. One of his scribes recanted and was unabashed in his apostasy, claiming that “Muhammad only knows what I wrote for him!”, but in spite of this the Prophet  left him completely free and interceded for the man on his deathbed. A group of twelve Muslims recanted and left Medina for Mecca, but the Prophet did not spill any of their blood nor did he pronounce the death penalty on any of them. Two young men converted to Christianity and their father asked the Prophet to curse them, but instead he recited the verse, There shall be no coercion in matters of faith (Qur’an  2:256).

These cases, and others, prove that the Prophet did not know, command or apply any penal code for apostasy.

Two final questions might be addressed in this necessarily brief study of the problem of apostasy.

Firstly, if the Qur’an and the Prophet give no justification for the killing of those apostates who are not waging war on Muslims, how does one explain the decision of Abü Bakr to wage war on the “apostates”? First of all, Abu Bakr did not start the war. It was the rebellious tribes who marched on Medina when they learned that the Muslim army had been sent north to Persia. The issue at stake was not apostasy, but their rejection of the payment of Zakat and the authority of Abu Bakr, for they would only accept obedience to the Prophet and no one after him. In fact, ‘Umar and some of the Companions did not agree with Abü Bakr that he should wage war on these tribes when they were Muslims who declared the oneness of God and the Prophethood of Muhammad. The decision to do so was a matter of upholding the authority of the state, and was not a conflict over articles of faith.

Secondly, in view of the tolerance of the Companions in the face of the deviations from normative beliefs which they saw amongst various groups, how can one explain the development of uncompromising coercive principles, such as the death penalty for apostates, by rigidly authoritarian religious scholars?

The fact is that the Companions did not accuse the Qadiriyyah nor the Jabiriyyah of apostasy nor did the Successor Generation accuse the Mu’tazilites, the Murji’ites, or the Jahmites of apostasy, despite their deviant doctrines, which included the denial that the Qur’an is God’s Word, the rejection of the existence of any attributes of God, and the belief that whoever declares the two testimonies (no God but God and Muhammad is His Messenger) is complete in his faith and has no need to perform a single action.

The elevation of hadith such as those pronouncing death for apostasy came about as a result of the desire of scholars to codify religious knowledge and to solidify laws towards the end of the Umayyad period and the beginning of the ‘Abbasid period during a time of great strife between competing ideologies that gravely threatened the unity of the Ummah. In acting as protectors of the law and upholders of authority, they developed two principles to deal with anyone who rebelled against them: labelling as an apostate anyone who rejected their formulations and rulings, and coercing such people into compliance by the threat of death.

These two spurious principles are the product of historical circumstances and the need to uphold power and authority. They contradict the spirit of Islam and are not in line with the values and principles of the Qur’an, nor with the life of the Prophet  and the Companions.

Salaam

Jeremy

 

d
I want to form a really globally acceptable answer to 9:29 that Mohammed Asad translate as, “ Fight against those who – despite having been vouchsafed revelation [aforetime] -do not [truly] believe either in God or the Last Day, and do not consider forbidden that which God and His Apostle have forbidden, and do not follow the religion of truth [which God has enjoined upon them] till they [agree to] pay the exemption tax with a willing hand, after having been humbled [in war].

My tentative answer is below:  Please help me to improve…………….thanks
1) An educated Muslim has reverence for every Holy Scripture given to all the major religions of the world as per Quran“To every people was sent an Apostle to teach them in their own language in their own country – making things clear” 10:47, 14:4 & 16:36.  Hence a educated Muslim believes that Hindus, Buddhist and even Confucius followers also had divine masters and Holy Scriptures.  The Christians and Jews are also highly respected as well as their Holy Scriptures by every educated Muslim.

2) Every religion had fought to cleanse the wicked, the murderers, the unjust, the fascists from their faiths.  Mahabharata stories are well known.  Wars of Asoka when he was Hindu is well known and why Asoka converted to Buddhism is also known all over the world.  Gautama Buddha was a Hindu and he revolted against unjust practices of Hinduism and founded new non-violent religion.  The history of Jainism is also known to educated people.
The Buddhists and Hindus had bloody wars to stop the “evil from taking over.”  Krishna advice to Arjun is well known and recorded.

3) Roman Christianity made wars with Protestant groups for centuries.  Europe has had the bloodiest history.

4) Settlers from Europe mercilessly committed genocide of native Americans (Red Indians) and now we all live on those very lands that once were occupied by Native American tribes.  The British settlers of Australia and New Zealand also adopted to kill aborigines who lived on those lands for centuries.

Human history has gone through cleansing and reformation to bring out the good and controlling evil.  Every religious community has undergone change.

5) The Quran also acknowledges the evil elements living during the times of Prophet Mohammed as quoted in 9:29 and other verses.  Those verses must be studied in historical context only.  They belong in the days of constant warfare and turmoil.  Those days are gone for ever.  Those people are gone forever who fought. 

Just like Americans had war of Independence with the British imperialists, just like Indians (Hindus and Muslims) fought the British rule all over Hindustan, THOSE DAYS ARE BURIED IN HISTORICAL CONTEXT FOR EVER.

The chapter on war in Quran is not relevant in the 21st century.  It rightfully belong in the 6th century Arabia which was full of war culture.  Prophet Mohammed came to change that culture.  It is morally wrong to quote one verse here and one verse there from the Quran that advises on how to defeat the aggressors, the fascist, the plunderers and killers who lived in 6th century as applicable today in the 21st century.

People who do so are not fully informed or educated.  Today every religion is undergoing change.  Hinduism is still cleansing itself of caste system.  Modern nations have Constitution. And educated people with GLOBAL AWARENESS look for common grounds to form better community.  All Holy Scriptures contain verses of naked violence.  They have to be understood and interpreted in historical context as work in progress by the Divine to reform humans.  All religions and its adherents are closely connected through technology and scientific development.
We all should form a global community and never preach hatred, bigotry or racial superiority.  Never judge collectively any group of people who belong to any faith.  This will be doing injustice to the Divine that wants all to judge individually.

Iftekhar Hai, President                                                                                                                                                                                                                          UMA Interfaith Alliance
 
tags: Islam   
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