Hi Sam, I hope that you are doing well. After my last post on your wall, I have decided to try to address another of your articles titled, “Honesty: The Muslim Worlds Scarcest Resource“. This is a difficult thing to do as you have quoted verses from the Quran in this article and you have left people only with a binary choice: either to refute or to endorse the verses. I have chosen to write my comments and thoughts about them. First of all, I have to admit that even though I have recited Quran a number of times in my life, I have never read it, This is to say that I have done the recitation in Arabic which I can only read but not understand. To understand Quran one has to revert to some translation of it in a language that one understands, which are normally English and Urdu in my case. I have to emphasize that this is normally the case with most of the Pakistani people. I cannot claim this about Muslims of other countries though but I can anticipate that for people other than the Arabic speaking Muslim countries the situation would be the same. I can very well imagine that for Muslim converts, specially belonging to the European and other Western countries, the situation would be radically different. I speculate that an average European converted Muslim would be a lot more aware of the text and contents of the Quran than an average Muslim belonging to a typical Muslim country. I attribute this primarily to the innate curiosity I have observed in people living in Western countries about whatever subject they encounter. I also attribute this to the fact that Muslims who were born and raised in Muslim countries, families or neighborhoods tend to take Islam for granted (if it has to be considered a gift of any kind). I have to further admit that I have never been a formal student of philosophy or logic. I would try to sound as much rational as possible, but I expect my naivety or lack of rationality be forgiven but not overlooked. I have to say this because I may want to continue this work in future as well without coming across as a nuisance to the reader who is specifically inclined towards reason over dogma. I hope that the way I want to express myself would improve by the passage of time.
Islam, like almost all other religions, claims to be the true religion of God. Islam also claims that Quran is the true, ultimate and final word of God. Islam also claims that Muhammad (PBUH) is the final Prophet of God. Islam also claims to obsolete Christianity and Judaism as earlier versions of Islam itself. For other religions, like Hinduism for example, Islam does not even consider them as religions of God i.e. Allah. Islam has also addressed atheism by labeling it as wrong. So how does this minimize the conflict? This piece of information, and everything that is based around it, which can be found elsewhere on the web and in the libraries, actually adds to the multidimensional conflict the humanity is in at the moment. This obfuscates the problem because even after almost one and a half millenium of its advent its preceding religions, Christianity and Judaism, still claim to be the true religions of God. Added to this are the present circumstances we live in, where we have all the technology and infrastructure to create and propagate new and interesting ideas about so many subjects. The problem gets further obfuscated if we look at it from the lens of an intellectual who demands adherents of a system of beliefs to rationally argue in favor of the beliefs they hold dear to themselves. This, in my point of view, is an extremely reasonable demand although it is difficult to meet. This also demands a lot of hard work and immense intellectual honesty.
The point of writing this article is to try to offer an honest explanation of the points you have raised in your article titled; “Honesty: The Muslim Worlds Scarcest Resource”. I shall now come to this. I presume that what you have challenged the ordinary Muslims to endorse (or to refute to) in this article are the various verses of the Quran where the God has himself mocked the infidels, and not only that, He has also asked the Muslims to kill them. I am not going to address each and every verse. I am only going to address the rather more critical verses where the God has asked the Muslims to kill the infidels. IN other words, I am going to pick the verses which appear to me as more sword-like. For the purpose of brevity, I am going to skip the verses where the God has mocked the infidels themselves. The only thing I have to say about this is that this is something God holds personally against the infidels. This is to say that Islam believes in a personal God and according to the Islamic point of view everyone is accountable for their personal doings. I also have to add here that a lot of Quran has to be read in context. This means that it has to be read with the help of a suitable explanation. This is important because if it is read out of context the meaning of whole verses gets distorted. I have chosen Tafsir Ibn Kathir for this purpose which is a well known and widely accepted source of explanation for the Quran.
Most sword-like of these are the three verses from the second chapter of the Quran titled Al-Baqarah (meaning, “The Calf”) in English. These are verses 190-193 which are stated below one after the other.
Translation: And fight in the way of Allah with those who fight against you *200 but do not commit aggression because AIIah does not like aggressors. *201
Explanation: *200. The believers are asked to fight those who hindered their efforts in the cause of God, and acted with hostility towards them merely because they sought to fashion human life according to the revealed guidance of God. Earlier, when they were weak and scattered, the Muslims were asked merely to preach and be patient with the wrongful repression meted out to them by their opponents. However, now that a small city state had been established in Madina they were commanded for the first time to unsheathe their swords against those who had resorted to armed hostility against their movement of reform. It was some time after this injunction that the Battle of Badr took place, to be followed by several other battles.
*201. The believers are told that material interests should not be the motivation for their fighting, that they should not take up arms against those who were not in opposition to the true faith, that they should not resort to unscrupulous methods or to the indiscriminate killing and pillage which characterized the wars of the pre-Islamic era, the Age of Ignorance. The excesses alluded to in this verse are acts such as taking up arms against women and children, the old and the injured, mutilation of the dead bodies of the enemy, uncalled-for devastation through the destruction of fields and livestock, and other similar acts of injustice and brutality. In the Hadith all these acts have been prohibited. The real intent of the verse is to stress that force should be used only when its use is unavoidable, and only to the extent that is absolutely necessary.
Translation: (2:191) Fight against them wherever they confront you in combat and drive them out from where they drove you out. Though killing is bad. persecution is worse than killing *202 Do not fight against them near the Masjid Haram unless they attack you there.
Explanation: *202. Here the word fitnah is used in the sense of ‘persecution’. It refers to a situation whereby either a person or a group is subjected to harassment and intimidation for having accepted, as true, a set of ideas contrary to those currently held, and for striving to effect reforms in the existing order of society by preaching what is good and condemning what is wrong. Such a situation must be changed, if need be, by the force of arms.
Bloodshed is bad, but when one group of people imposes its ideology and forcibly prevents others from accepting the truth, then it becomes guilty of an even more serious crime. In such circumstances, it is perfectly legitimate to remove that oppressive group by the force of arms.
فَإِنِ انتَهَوْاْ فَإِنَّ اللّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
Translation:(2:192) And if they attack you first (even in that sacred area), strike them (without any hesitation); this is the due punishment for such disbelievers. If, however, they desist from fighting (you should also do likewise), and know that Allah is Forgiving and Merciful *203 .
Explanation: *203. God, in whom the believers have faith, is forgiving and ready to pardon even the worst criminals and sinners after they have renounced their arrogant defiance towards Him. It is suggested that this attribute of God should be reflected in the behaviour of the believers as well. As the saying goes: ‘Mould your morals according to the attributes of God.’ Hence, Whenever the believers have to resort to armed conflict, they should do so not for the sake of quenching their thirst for vengeance but in the cause of God’s religion. Their conflict with any group should last only as long as that group resists the cause of God. As soon as it gives up this resistance hostility should cease.
Translation: (2:193) Go on fighting with them till there is no more a state of tribulation and Allah’s way is established instead. *204 Then if they desist from it, there should be no more hostility except against those who had been guilty of cruelty and brutality. *205
*204. Here the term fitnah is used in a different sense from the one in which it was used above (see verse 191). It is evident from the context that fitnah refers here to the state of affairs wherein the object of obedience is someone other than God. Hence the purpose of a believer’s fighting is that this fitnah should cease and obedience should be consecrated to God alone.
An investigation of the usages of the word din (which occurs in this verse) reveals that the core of its meaning is obedience. In its technical usage, the word refers to that systern of life which arises as a result of a person recognizing someone as his Lord and Sovereign and committing himself to following his commands and ordinances. This explanation of the word din makes it quite clear that when some human beings establish their godhead and absolute dominance over others, this state of affairs is one of fitnah. Islam seeks to put an end to this and replace it by a state of affairs in which people live in obedience to the laws of God alone.
*205. What is meant here by ‘desisting’ is not the abandonment of unbelief and polytheism on the part of the unbelievers but rather their desistance from active hostility to the religion enjoined by God. The unbeliever, the polytheist, the atheist, has each been, empowered to hold on to his beliefs and to worship who and whatever he wishes.In order to deliver these people from their error, Muslims are required to counsel them and tell them where their good lies.But Muslims ought not to try to achieve this purpose by resorting to force. At the same time, these misguided people have no right to either enforce the false laws of their own contriving instead of the laws of God or to drive the people of God to bondage of others than God.In order to put an end to this fitnah, both persuasion and force be used, whenever and to the extent to which each of the two is needed, and a true believer will not rest until the unbelievers give up this fitnah.
The statement that hostility is meant only against wrong-doers seems to imply that when the true system of life replaces the false one, ordinary people should be granted a general amnesty. At the same time, however, it would be justifiable to punish those who exceeded all limits in their hostility to the Truth, at the time when they held the reins of power. Yet in dealing with such people, it becomes the true believers, after they have one final victory, to adopt a general attitude of forgiveness and tolerance towards the vanquished rather than subject them to revenge for the wrongs they committed in the past. Those criminals whose records were exceptionally bad could, however, be punished. The Prophet (peace be on him), availed himself of this permission in respect of some notorious enemies whose hostility had exceeded all limits, even though pardon and forgiveness behoved none more than him. Thus ‘Uqbah ibn Abi Mu’avt and Nadr b. Harith from among the captives of the Battle of Badr were put to death and when a general amnesty, was proclaimed after the conquest of Makka four out of seventeen persons were executed. (See Ibn Hisham, vol. 1, p. 644 and vol. 2, pp. 409 ff. – Ed.). The link to an online version of the book is here. These acts were based on the permission to put to the sword those who have been conspicuously ruthless in their hostility to Islam and the Muslims.
One may argue then that why is Islam religion of peace then if their Prophet (PBUH) had to execute himself his enemies while he could have easily forgiven them. There are various answers to these questions which can be found elsewhere on the web. There are obviously arguments in the favor of the Prophet and then there are critiques that question the genuineness of his Prophethood. Indeed the curious student of religion (and particularly of Islam) should keep on trying to find the truth. What is interesting to note, in these verses, however, is that even though Muslims have been allowed to use power and force to try to quell forces that make a hindrance in their way while they try to live their lives according to the tenets of Islam, they have been allowed to do so only with caution, by following a certain set of rules, and by having due regard for other peoples beliefs and ideas. To this end, I would briefly try to comment on the highlighted parts of the explanation of verse 2:193. The first sentence highlighted as black piece of text explains what Quran means by the word ‘desist’. The second part highlighted as green clearly talks about everybody else, including atheists, that they have a right to worship anything else they hold themselves dear to. One may get offended by the use of the word ’empower’ here. I might have gotten offended if I were an atheist by inferring that how does anybody, whether a human being or a God of peoples’ imagination, have the authority to ’empower’ me into believing or worshipping anything I would like to do while I am already a free-man. Resentment to Quran’s authoritative style by use of such words can grow further if I look at the opposition of it, or of other books like this, and their hypothetical authors, and their apostles, as the sole purpose my life. This rather invokes an emotion of rebelliousness in my intellectually motivated assumed self. But the bottom-line, however is that Islam somehow allow everyone to practice whatever they want to practice. I also presume that this has been asserted about an Islamic state. I have heard from many people that Muslims residing in non-Muslim states are required to abide by the rules and regulations of those states. So while living in Rome Muslims have to do as Romans do. Of course, they have to abide by laws which are not in conflict with the teachings of Islam.
The next line, in red, instructs Muslims to counsel the non-Muslims to embrace Islam as the right path, without resorting to the use of force. That non-Muslims are not not allowed to force their ideas upon Muslims is emphasized next. And that whenever Muslims are being forced into believing ideas of non-Muslims, they are recommended to use persuasion and force to resist this. I think that this would happen in the worst scenarios.
After having read this, however, there is no denying that Islam is actually not a religion of terror, or turmoil or oppression. Thanks to this current wave of Islamo-phobic sentiments from various parts of the world that we have to actually open up the Quran and read and try to understand that what does Islam actually stand for as a religion.
It is also interesting to note and reiterate that Islam had the atheists in mind and made room for them.
One could keep on arguing in favor of, or against, certain things about Islam or other equivalent ideologies. I would rather to stop here and talk about something else for a while. Human beings have an innate ability to think. That whether there is a God who made thinking machines out of them or whether they thought themselves about some God(s) and developed ideas and evolved religions is a subject of keen scientific and academic investigation.
Try to hang around with a bunch of Muslims in any randomly chosen location of the world. This is to say that, that place could be a shopping center in the busy city of Lahore. A rural village in Pakistan. A bus station in CopenHagen, Denmark. Or a hostel dormitory in a far flung town of Western France. Try to eavesdrop on any conversation those people are having about infidels. Be they educated or illiterate, computer science researchers or ordinary dish washers, taxi drivers and cleaners. They all say one thing unanimously, which, when translated to plain English, simply means: that if these western people recite the kalimah Tayyaba, they would become better Muslims than us just by the virtue of having recited it and by the virtue of having better values than us. The point I am trying to make here is not that the people be forced in to reciting kalimah Tayyaba, and hence be forced in to embracing Islam. The point I am trying to make here is that, ordinary Muslims who have been to the Western countries are normally so very impressed by the general attitude of the people, their behaviors, their general honesty, candidness and courtesy towards all others alike. The point I am trying to make in short is that ordinary Muslims already hold people from foreign countries in high esteem. Ordinary Muslims do not, at the same time, consider themselves to have something which makes them better off than an ordinary Frenchman or a Dane. There are aspects about the Western society that nobody can deny that they have benefited the whole human society in general. Specially in our times we have, and we could have, benefitted a lot from the scientific and technological advancement most of which has happened in Western states. I am a member of a religious spiritual club which issues a monthly magazine on Islamic spirituality and that is full of allusions to many scientific achievements of the Western researchers in various fields that affect human development, ranging from medicine to meditation. The point I am trying to make is not that whether the Western or Islamic way of thinking about life is right or whether that Islam can co-exist with the West or not, the point I am trying to make is that I don’t see a great deal of a dispute of ideas on the street.
Whether is a God or not, or whether we want to believe in one or not, if one exists, is a question more of intellectual speculation and should be addressed more in an academic spirit. Other than that, earth quakes are erupting, glaciers are falling, people are dying. For some it is wrath of God, for others it is will of God and yet for others it is the sheer absence of God.
(WORK IN PROGRESS)
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