The Muslim’s Challenge & The Way Out

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By

A. G. NOORANI[1]

Abstract

(In 1957 Prof. Wilfred Cantwell Smith, who taught in Lahore for some years, remarked in his brilliant work, Islam in Modern History, that “the fundamental malaise of modern Islam is a sense that something has gone wrong with Islamic history” (A Mentor Book; p. 47). But he was quick to add “The fundamental problem of modern Muslims is how to rehabilitate that history: to set it going again in full vigour, so that Islamic society may once again flourish as a divinely guided society should and must. The fundamental spiritual crisis of Islam in the twentieth century stems from an awareness that something is awry between the religion which God has appointed and the historical development of the world which He controls.”- Author)

Why are we being so despised today when till yesterday, was not tolerated/ The insolence of even the angels towards us.

Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib’s couplet well sums up the depressed state of the Muslim mind. This sense of failure which was evident in the 19th century remains even now. It has resulted in low self-esteem, delusions of grandeur, touchiness and proneness to violent self-assertion. There is a firm largely justified belief that the world has been unfair, but there is no introspection which alone can help in mustering courage to recognise the realities and face them boldly.

In 1954 the Munir Report noted “He (the Muslim) finds  himself in a state of helplessness, waiting for someone to come and help him out of this morass of uncertainty and confusion.”(p. 232). In 1957 Prof. Wilfred Cantwell Smith, who taught in Lahore for some years, remarked in his brilliant work, Islam in Modern History, that “the fundamental malaise of modern Islam is a sense that something has gone wrong with Islamic history” (A Mentor Book; p. 47). But he was quick to add “The fundamental problem of modern Muslims is how to rehabilitate that history: to set it going again in full vigour, so that Islamic society may once again flourish as a divinely guided society should and must. The fundamental spiritual crisis of Islam in the twentieth century stems from an awareness that something is awry between the religion which God has appointed and the historical development of the world which He controls.”

This is the crux of the problem. Fortunately there are signs that some Muslim thinkers, Muslim and other, have begun earnestly to reflect on how the Muslim can resolve those dilemmas. Graham E. Fuller, former Vice-Chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA, would seem a most unlikely candidate to offer such assistance. His book, A World Without Islam (Little, Brown and Co., 2010), created a stir because it did just that. He wrote “In its time, Islam was perhaps the mot significant early proto-globalization movement. Expanding over a far greater area than the Roman Empire, it came to link vast regions of the known world through a common Islamic culture, where Arabic and Persian served as the lingua francas. Yet it was the waning of this universalist spirit that led to localization and atrophy of what was once an open and searching intellectual society. And even then, a struggle had always existed between a narrower, more legalistic interpretation of the faith and a broader, more civilizational one.

“The death of Islamic intellectual vigor and curiosity – and exhaustion of civilizational élan without dramatic new intellectual input – led to the decline of creative thinking in Islamic theology, philosophy, science, and technology. Ritual and narrow legalism came to triumph over thought and inquiry in what passed for the study of Islam. Thinking ossified, inhibiting even the kind of historical scrutiny of Islam’s own texts and sources of authority that was possible in earlier centuries. This atrophy of Muslim intellectual vigor was well demonstrated in the collapse of Muslim science and, possibly more damaging, in a general passivity toward later scientific and technological development in the West – until that same technology landed on the Muslim doorstep and overwhelmed it. Even in the face of the West’s challenge, most Muslim reformers looked at the West primarily as a warehouse of technological hardware, without grasping the need for the all-important cultural and intellectual software that made it all function. Important external geopolitical factors played a major role in the decline of the Muslim world as well.” (pp. 245-6).

South Asia presents a pathetic sight. Ironically it was this region which contributed a lot to the intellectual ferment in the Islamic world. Syed Ahmad khan, pioneer of the Aligarh movement and Muhammad Iqbal are quoted extensively by Ali A. Allawi, Minister of Defence and Minister of Finance in the post-war government of Iraq, in his thought provoking book The Crisis of Islamic Civilisation (Yale University Press; 2009).

Unfortunately little notice has been taken of a work of original incisive analysis published in Dhaka in 2007: Islam and Sharia by Hasan Mahmood. The two are not identical he asserted with convincing proof. Tarek Fatah, a Pakistani intellectual, now settled in Canada, borrows heavily from this work in his book Chasing a Mirage – The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State (John Wiley & Sons; 2008).

Fatah was a left-wing student leader, twice imprisoned by successive military dictatorships. He worked at SUN, a Karachi newspaper, and for PTV. He moved to Saudi Arabia and eventually migrated to Canada.

Western writers have patronizingly asserted off and on that like Christianity, Islam also needs a Reformation before it can have a Renaissance. But Muslims never had an “infallible” Pope. It is another matter that a religion which recognizes no priestly class has been hijacked, as it were, by irresponsible and ignorant mullahs. Islam has always had a strong tradition of dissent. It has also a tradition of scientific achievement.

It is the mullahs and their masters, the ruler, who closed the door to ijtihad and to rational discourse. The Nobel physics laureate for 1979 Muhammad Abdus Salam said “I have been asking the ulema why their sermons should not exhort Muslims to take up the subjects of science and technology – considering that one-eight of the holy book speaks of science and technology. Most have replied that they would like to do so, but do not know enough modern science. They only know the science of the age of Avicenna.”

Ehsan Masood’s book, Science and Islam : A History (Icon Books, 2009), records the achievements and quoting Muhammad Abdus Salam, asks “Why are there just two scientists from Muslim countries that have won a Nobel prize in science – Abdus Salam, a physicist from Pakistan who won in 1979, and Ahmed Zewail, a chemist from Egypt, in 1999? Or : Why did science come to an end in the way that it did? If we are talking about countries with large Muslim populations, did the rise and the decline have something to do with religion, or were there other factors?”

He proceeds to make concrete suggestions in the light of history. “One important lesson from the past is that Islamic societies were receptive to hearing and discussing new ideas, even if they didn’t always agree with them. Until the 15th century, scientists from the Islamic world themselves were generating much of this new thinking. When this process of indigenous learning showed down and moved to Western Europe, events such as the Coperrnican revolution were still widely accepted in the Islamic world. Even the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859 was discussed and published in the media of many Islamic countries.

“How can science return to the nations of the Islamic world? In many countries, much progress is already being made. But to achieve developed-world standards, governments and those with influence will need to do at least three things. There need to be massive investments, both in educating people and in building institutions. This will be hard for the poorest countries and they will need help, both from their wealthier neighbours and from the broader international community. Second, governments need to give their peoples the freedom to innovate. And third, science must never be used to attack people’s freedom to believe.

“The empires of Islam created the conditions for a staggering renaissance in science and technology, some of which undoubtedly helped the scientists of Western Europe. Yet those caliphs and rulers who were most enthusiastic about science were also harsh on their critics, and used science and new knowledge to force people to make choices in religion. If science is to return to the nations of Islam, it must do so without interfering in people’s freedom to believe.” (pp. 215-216).

Right now Muslim intellectuals are engaged in grappling in earnest with the issues that perplex the ummah. Beginning with the very concept of the ummah, they proceed to discuss the sharia and Islam, the hadith, the Quran, matters of personal law like polygamy and divorce and fundamentally the very status of woman in Islam.

In the days of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) the ummah was not confined to Muslims. It included Jews and Christians. Karen Armstrong is an erudite scholar who has deep empathy for Muslims. She has recently written A Letter to Pakistan (Oxford University Press, Karachi; 2011). She points out a fact about which Muslims are ignorant. “At the very beginning of Prophet’s (PBUH) mission, the new faith was not called ‘Islam’ but tazakkah, a rather obscure word which was related to zakat. It meant ‘refinement, generosity, chivalry’ Muslims must contemplate the sign’s (ayat) of God’s benevolence  in all the wonders of the created world”. (p.13)

Before that Message, there prevailed sheer jahiliyyah (barbaric ignorance). “During this second step of the journey to compassion, we must take a critical look at our own world, our own society. We should take ourselves mentally to the top of a high mountain and view our situation dispassionately, as Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) did. Do you see signs of jahiliyyah? I confess that I observe a great deal of jahiliyyah here in the United Kingdom. Like the kafirun of Makkah, many western people see their sunnah as inherently superior and cannot easily admit that others’ may also have merit; they love displaying their cleverness at other people’s expense and western jahiliyyah has contributed greatly to our current global predicament. But jahili attitudes are not confined to the West. Do you see signs of jahiliyyah in your family, workplace, and nation? Prophet Muhammad (PHUH) spotted a spiritual malaise `in Makkah. Do you see malaise and jahiliyyah in the larger Muslim world? If so, what has brought this situation about and how best can it be remedied? Reflection on the current state of society should become part of the curriculum of any course on compassion….

` “This type of creative self-criticism has a distinguished history in Islam. After the Prophet’s (PBUH) death and the terrible period of civil war, the more devout Muslims met together in groups to discuss the new situation. Some might have given up in despair, thinking that the Islamic venture had failed. But these people drew on the tradition they had inherited to find a fresh solution. Confronted with the political disasters they had witnessed, they explored their urgent theological implications. Who should lead the Muslim community? Had Ali or Muawiyah been right during the First Fitnah? Did Muslims have a duty to accept the Umayyad caliphs, despite their faiths, in the interests of peace and unity? Could the Umayyad state be truly Islamic? Could rulers who lived in such luxury and condoned the poverty of the vast majority of the people be true Muslims? From these intense political discussions and anguished, honest debates, much of the distinctive piety and practices of Islam as we know it began to emerge. Different groups found different solutions : fiqh, asceticism, Sufism, Shiism, theology (kalam), and the writing of Islamic history. This is another time of trial (fitnah) for Muslims, and to engage creatively in these debates is fully in line with mainstream Muslim tradition.” (ibid.; pp. 20-21).

One finds such sincere questioning in Muslim intellectuals the world over; but never among the arrogant fundamentalists. They would kill anyone who insults the Prophet (PBUH). But The Chosen One (PBUH) himself reacted differently to insults. “One day Abu Jahl, the leader of the Qurayshi opposition to Islam, came upon Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) sitting near the Safa Gate, an important site of the Hajj, and poured forth a string of devastating insults. But Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) refused to retaliate and sat calmly listening to the tirade until it was over, when he went sadly and silently home. On another occasion, he allowed the kafirun to knock him about without lifting a finger to defend himself, until Abu Bakr (RA) intervened.

“The Qur’an presents the kafirun stirring up controversy and contention (Surah 21:2-3; Surah 18:57; Surah 62:5). They are forever arguing wrangling(Surah 6:68) and seem to enjoy jeering at the Qur’anic teachings (Surah 84:19; Surah 37:35-36). Muslims must conduct themselves quite different : ‘Do not turn your cheek away from people in contempt, and do not walk haughtily upon the earth: God loves not every swaggering snob. Let your walk be modest and keep your voice low : the ugliest of sounds is the braying of an ass.

(Surah 31:18-19)

“To counter the jahili spirit that had been cultivated by Arabs for centuries, Muslims must temper the egotism that inspired it with the disciplines of salat, and refuse to respond angrily to these insults : ‘perform the prayer, command to virtue and forbid evil, and bear with patience whatever befalls you’ (Surah 31:17). This self-effacing demeanour seems to have been an important value in the early community:

‘The true servants of the Most Gracious are those who walk the earth in humility, and when the jahilun address them their only word is ‘Peace!’

They are those who pray to their Lord, bowing or standing…

Who do not bear false witness; who, when passing by idle gossip, pass on in dignity.’

(Surah 25:63-64, 72)

“This modest, patient attitude showed that Muslims were no longer enslaved by their passions; the surrender of ego had liberated them from the compulsion to be stirred by the smallest provocation.” (ibid.; pp. 46-47).

Little do people who loudly profess the great faith of Islam know that it is truly unique because of its universalism. “The religious traditions all insist that we must reach out compassionately beyond our own group to the foreigner and the stranger. Muslims are fortunate in their scripture, because the Qur’an is almost unique in its positive view of other peoples, other religious traditions. There is nothing like Qur’anic pluralism in either the Torah or the Gospel. This makes the Qur’an especially relevant to our global society, where, whether we like it or not, we all have to learn that we share the planet with equals – not with inferiors. The Qur’an declares that every people on the face of the earth has received a divine revelation (Surah 16:36) and has expressed it in its own cultural idiom. We have just seen that Muslims are commanded to speak ‘in the most kindly manner’ to Jews and Christians, the ahl al-kitab, because they worship the same God. In one remarkable passage, God makes it clear that Muslims must accept indiscriminately the revelations of every single one of God’s messengers: ‘Say: We believe in God, and that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendents, and that which has been vouchsafed by their Sustainer unto Moses and Jesus and all the [other] prophets: we make no distinction between any of them. And unto Him do we surrender ourselves (Iahu muslimum’). (Surah 3:84).

“This is one of the first passages in the Qur’an to emphasize the words Islam and Muslim, which both derive, of course, from aslama, ‘surrendering oneself entirely to someone else’s will’. The next verse continues: ‘For if one goes in search of a religion other than self-surrender (Islam) unto God, it will never be accepted from him, and in the life to come he shall be among the lost.’ ” (ibid.; pp. 48-49).

Armstrong’s book has a brief but illuminating contribution in the same vein by Dr. Khalid Zaheer, Head, Department of Islamic and Religious Studies, University of Central Punjab, Lahore. He writes : “Some Muslsims do not look favourably towards non-Muslims because they believe them to be Kafir (unbelievers) and, therefore, condemnable. A careful reading of the Qur’an, however, leads one to believe that a Kafir is a person who knowingly denies the truth coming from  God. Kufr is not synonymous with being a non-Muslim. Both Muslims and non-Muslims can be Kafir and only God can tell who amongst humans belong to that category. The Qur’an says about Pharaoh and his companions, for example, that when Moses presented before them God’s signs ‘- and in their wickedness and self-exaltation they rejected them, although their minds were convinced of their truth’ (Surah 27:14).

“The Qur’an has praised unstintingly some of the people of the book. The Qur’an says: ‘[But] they are not all alike: among the followers of earlier revelation there are upright people, who recite God’s messages throughout the night, and prostrate themselves [before Him]. They believe in God and the Last Day, and enjoin the doing of what is wrong, and vie with one another in doing good works : and these are among the righteous. And whatever good they do, they shall never be denied the reward thereof: for God has full knowledge of those who are conscious of Him’ (Surah 3:113-5).

“What naturally proceeds from the above understanding is the fact that contrary to a common misunderstanding amongst Muslims, the Qur’an has not condemned all Jews and Christians nor has it warned Muslims against making them their friends.” (ibid.; pp. 72-73).

There is an ancient document of impeccable authenticity and of current relevance. It is the “umma document” also called The Medina Constitution. The Quraysh of Mecca had refused to accept multi-religious pluralism. When the Prophet (PBUH) arrived in Medina in 622 with his followers the group consisted of muhajirs (refugees), ansars (helpers, believers in Medina, Jews and others). A meeting was held where this foundational document was decided. The Prophet (PBUH) consulted representatives of Muslims as well as non-Muslims. The foundations of the “city state” were laid by that accord in writing.

These extracts reveal what constituted the ummah. “In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful. This book (document) has been prepared by Muhammad the Prophet of God, on behalf of the believers of Quraysh (the emigrants from Mecca) and Yathrib [Medina], the Muslims and those who have joined them, and those fighting along with them. Surely, they form an umma (group) apart from the rest of humankind. … All God-fearing Muslims shall be against the person who intends to commit an aggressive and unjust act among them, or who aims to infringe one’s right or to cause turmoil among believers. And even if this person is the offspring of one of them, they shall all raise their hands against him….

“The Jews of Banu ‘Awf, together with Muslims constitute an umma(group). The religion of the Jews is for themselves, the religion of Muslims for themselves. This includes both their mawla and themselves personally.

“But whoever performs an unjust action or commits a crime shall harm solely himself and members of his family. The Jews of Banu’n-Najjar shall have the same (rights) as the Jews of Banu ‘Awf. The Jews of Banu’I-Harith shall have the same (rights) as the Jews of Banu ‘Awf. The Jews of Banu Sa’ida  shall have the same (rights) as the Jews of Banu ‘Awf. The Jews of Banu Jusham  shall have the same (rights) as the Jews of Banu ‘Awf. The Jews of Banu’I-Aws Sa’ida  shall have the same (rights) as the Jews of Banu ‘Awf. The Jews of Banu Tha’laba shall have the same (rights) as the Jews of Banu ‘Awf. But whoever performs an unjust action or commits a crime shall harm solely himself and members of his family….

“There shall be cooperation among them (Muslims and Jews) against those who invade the Yathrib. If they (the Jews) are invited (by the Muslims) to adhere to a peace agreement or to take part in a peace agreement, they shall either directly sign it or participate in it. If they (the Jews) suggest the same things (to the Muslim), they shall have the same rights from the Muslims; excepting cases of war over religious issues.”

Prof. Fred M. Donner of the University of Chicago has written an erudite work of great relevance to the times in which he quotes the Constitution of Medina. Its very title proclaims its relevance Muhammad and the Believers at the Origins of Islam (Harvard University Press, 2010). He records: “The earliest Believers thought of themselves as constituting a separate group of community of righteous, God-fearing monotheist, separate in their strict observance of righteousness from those around them – whether polytheists or imperfectly rigorous, or sinful, monotheists – who did not conform to their strict code.

“On the other hand, there is no reason to think that the Believers viewed themselves as constituting a new or separate religious confession (for which the Qur’anic term seems to be milla, Q. 2:120). Indeed, some passages make it clear that Muhammad’s message was the same as that brought by earlier apostles: ‘Say: I am no innovator among the apostles; and I do not know what will become of me or of you. I merely follow what is revealed to me; I am only a clear warner’ (Q. 46:9). At this early stage in the history of the Believers’ movement, then, it seems that Jews or Christians who were sufficiently pious could, if they wished, have participated in it because they recognized God’s oneness already….

“Closer examination of the Qur’an reveals a number of passages indicating that some Christians and Jews could belong to the Believers’ movement – not simply by virtue of their being Christians or Jews, but because they were inclined to righteousness. For Example, Q. 3:199 states, “There are among the people of the book those who Believe in God and what was sent down to you and was sent down to them…” Other verses, such as Q. 3:113-116, lay this out in greater detail. These passages and other like them suggest that some peoples of the book – Christians and Jews – were considered Believers. The line separating Believers from unbelievers did not, then, coincide simply with the boundaries of the peoples of the book. Rather, it cut across those communities, depending on their commitment to God and to observance of His law, so that some of them were to be considered Believers, while others were not.

“Believers, then, whatever religious confession they may have belonged to – whether (non-trinitarian) Christians, Jews, or what we might call “Qur’anic monotheists,” recent converts from paganism – were expected to live strictly by the law that God had revealed to their communities. Jews should obey the laws of the Torah; Christians those of the Gospels; and those who were not already members of one of the preexisting monotheist communities should obey the injunctions of the Qur’an. The general term for these new Qur’anic monotheist was Muslim, but here we must pause for a moment to discuss in more detail the exact meaning of the words Muslim and Islam in the Qur’an.

“The notion that the early community of Believers of Muhammad’s day included pious Christians and Jews is, of course, very different from what the traditional Muslim sources of later times tell us. In later Islamic tradition, right down to the present. “Islam” refers to a particular religion, distinct from Christianity, Judaism, and other, and “Muslim” refers to an adherent of this religion. These terms are indeed derived from the Qur’an, but their meaning, as used by later tradition, has undergone a subtle change. When, for example, one reads the Qur’anic verse “Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, rather he was a Muslim hanif and not one of the mushrikun” (Q. 3:67; the Arabic text reads hanifan musliman), it becomes clear that Muslim in the Qur’an must mean something other than what later (and present) usage means by “Muslim” : for one thing, Muslim in the sentence is used as an adjective modifying the noun hanif (the meaning of which itself remains in dispute – perhaps a pre-Islamic term for “monotheist”). The basic sense of Muslim is “one who submits” to God or “one who obeys” God’s injunctions and will for mankind, and of course also recognizes God’s oneness. In other words, Muslim in Qur’anic usage means, essentially, a committed monotheist, and Islam means committed monotheism in the sense of submitting oneself to God’s will.”

Prof. Donner elaborates on the theme convincingly. It was an Umayyad emperor, who created the narrow divide. He was Abd al Malik ibn Marwan (685-705) and it is necessary to emphasise that this was a man-made distinction for imperial ends. “ ‘Abd al-Malik seems to have encouraged the Arabian Believers to redefine themselves, and the Believers’ movement, in a manner that was less ecumenical or confessional and open than it had been originally. The category of “Believer,” which hitherto had included righteous monotheist of several confessions, came to be increasingly limited to those who followed Qur’anic law. A boundary began to be drawn between Qur’anic Believers and those righteous Christians and Jews who had formerly belonged to the Believers’ movement, by redefining certain key terms that had been current in the community since the time of Muhammad – in particular, the words mu’min [“Believer”] and Muslim.

“As we have seen, when the first generation of Believers came out of Arabia, sources tell us that they used two terms to refer to themselves : mu’minun (Believers) and muhajirun. The latter term (which, as we have seen, shows up in Greek and Syriac cognates) was a designation for those Believers who were militarily active and had made religiously motivated emigration, hijra, from Arabia. But as years passed, the term muhajirun eventually fell out of use. …

“The only Qur’anic term that existed for these people was Muslim, meaning “one who submits himself to God’s ordinances” because he recognized God’s oneness. In the Qur’an Muslim basically means “monotheist,” and it could therefore be applied also to Christians, Jews, and other monotheists. But, unlike the Arabian monotheists who followed Qur’anic law, Christians and Jews could also still be referred to as Christians or Jews. So gradually, the Qur’anic term Muslim underwent a kind of shrinkage, so that it applied now only to those monotheists who followed Qur’anic law and no longer applied to Jews and Christians, the adherents of those earlier forms of God’s revealed law, the tawrat (Torah) and injil (Gospel). In other words, the old Qur’anic term Muslim acquired at last the meaning it retains until today, meaning a member of a religious confession that reveres the Qur’an, recognizes Muhammad as its prophet, and is distinct from other monotheists – a Muslim. At the same time, mu’min was taken to apply to all of those who followed Qur’anic law (not, as earlier, only to those who lived righteously), so that it became effectively synonymous with Muslim.” (pp. 203-4).

Prof. Asma Afsaruddin of the University of Notre Dame, Indiana take the same view: “The Qur’anic term umma is not restricted to the Muslim community, but also refers to Christian and Jewish communities, and to other nations long vanished. The early expansive meaning of umma is reflected in the Constitution of Medina drawn up by the Prophet (PBUH) in which the term included the Jewish Communities of Medina” (The First Muslims : History and Memory; One World; Oxford; 2009; p. 184).

Concerned British Muslims, mostly of South Asian origin, have made a valiant effort to open Islam to critical enquiry and debate. In this they have received good cooperation from C. Hurst & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., London. It has published a quarterly, Critical Muslim, on behalf of and in conjunction with Critical Muslim Ltd. and the Muslim Institute, Ltd. The second issue (April-June 2012) is devoted to The Idea of Islam and is co-edited by Dr. Ziauddin Sardar, Professor of Law and  Society,  Middlesex  University  and  Robin Yassin –  – Kassab. Sardar makes mince-meat of those who trade in the name of Islam. “The idea of Islam, I suggest, is incarcerated not in one but several prisons. There is the prison of the Shariah, or Islamic law. Almost any injustice on God’s bountiful earth can be, and at one time or another is or has been justified in the name of the Shariah: apostasy, blasphemy, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia. Even paedophilia can be justified as ‘God’s law’, according to Sheikh Salih bin Fawzan, a  member of Saudi Arabia’s Permanent Committee for Islamic Research and Fataawa, the highest religious body in the  Kingdom. In a fatwa that appeared in Saudi newspapers on 13 July 2011, Fawzan declared that ‘uninformed interference with Shariah rulings by the press and journalists is on the increase, posing dire consequences for society, including their interference with the question of marriage to small girls who have not reached maturity, and their demand that a minimum age be set for girls to marry’. There is no minimum age, Fawzan said. The religious scholars – the ulama – ‘have agreed that it is permissible for fathers to marry off their small daughters, even if they are in the cradle’. As is usual in such edicts, Fawzan quotes from the Qur’an and the traditions of the prophet to justify his ruling. And he wars : ‘It behoves those who call for setting a minimum age for marriage to fear Allah and not contradict his Shariah, or try to legislate things Allah did not permit. For laws are Allah’s province; and legislation is his exclusive right, to be shared by none other. And among these are the rules governing marriage’. Allah has also legislated, according to an earlier fatwa by Fawzan, that slavery is an integral part of Islam; and the Sheikh wants it re-introduce in Muslim societies.”

Sardar attacks the equation of the Shariah with Islam. “By equating the Shariah, a fallible human construct made in history, with Divine mandate, religious scholars have basically outlawed free will. To be a Muslim, one must submit to the Shariah, or rather the interpretation of well-meaning religious scholars long dead and their cynical, manipulating, and power hungry contemporary counterparts – comprised as they are of a spectrum that runs all the way from those educated at prestigious institutions such as Al-Azhar University of Cairo, to the alumni of the fanatical and fundamentalist universities of Riyadh, Medina and Mecca in Saudi Arabia, to the myopic scholars of the Deoband seminary in India, and right down to the semi-literate Mullah in the mosque.” (p.6)

Next comes the misplaced reverence for the hadith. “When it comes to hadith, questions multiply rapidly. If hadith are the actual words of the Prophet, why do Sunnis, Shias and the Khariji use three different sets of compilations, which are frequently contradictory? Does that not suggest that hadith served as a political instrument? Was the methodology of hadith collection (involving scrutiny of the chain of narrators, their character and circumstances) really so perfect that it cannot be questioned? The compilers of hadith did indeed perform a Herculean task, and we are told numerous stories about how meticulous they were in their work. There is the story of Imam Bukhari, for example, who traveled for miles to collect a hadith from a man. When he arrived at his house, he saw that the man was enticing his donkey with a bundle of hay. He returned without talking to the man, saying that a man who tricks his donkey is not a reliable witness. Correct. But what if he had arrived a few minutes earlier, or a few minutes later? It is said that he collected over 600,000 hadith, talking to over a thousand men, but only included 7,275 in his collection of authentic hadith, al-Jami as-Sahih. What happened to the rest? Did they remain in circulation? And what can one say of the men who fed him all those inauthentic hadith? Given the fact that hadith compilation was a human effort, was it not susceptible to human error?

“Moreover, if Sahih Bukhari does indeed contain ‘authentic’ hadith – that is words actually spoken by the Prophet himself – then what are we to make of a string of dubious hadith and their contradictions. For example : ‘The sun rises between the two antlers of Satan’ (Bukhari 2:134); ‘Seeing a black woman in a dream is the sign of an oncoming epidemic’ (Kitabul Ta’abir); and ‘Do you ever see an animal born with deformed organs?’ (Bukhari 1:525). Could the beloved Prophet have uttered such words…

The question arises: if the meticulous methodology of hadith compilation could allow hadith of such dubious nature (and there are many even worse), what can we say about the authenticity of others? Are Bukhari’s and other similar collections really sahih? And should we be using hadith as a source of Islamic law – allegedly Divine and eternal? And how much of the Shariah, from punishments for apostasy and adultery right down to dietary rules, is based on the Bible?” (pp. 12-13).

Samia Rahman, Deputy Director of the Muslim Institute, has contributed a devastating essay on “The Race of Women”. She was born to Bradford parents from Karachi. The tallest erred and erred against women in the name of Islam. “Al-Ghazali begins his chapter on women with the words : ‘The Apostle, God bless him, stated that the best and most blessed of women are those who are most prolific in child-bearing, fairest in countenance, and least costly in dowry’. Could the Prophet of Islam, noted for promoting women’s rights, have said such a thing – thus reducing women to mere commodities?

“Frankly, I do not accept such misogynistic sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. They are manufactured products of dubious male minds. And I refuse to accept the conventional interpretation of the Qur’an that has remained unchanged, for centuries, with layers built on the interpretation of a long line of male scholars. This Islam is without doubt steeped in misogyny. But it is not the Islam of my parents who brought me up as an independent, trustworthy and critical person. Beyond the rigid  and narrow conservative notions of such groups as Wahhabis, Salafis and various traditionalists, there are other Islams – more open to new understandings.” (p. 65)

I make no apology for quoting Samia Rahman at some length because few make so thorough a job. “There are numerous examples of how misogynist interpretation has become part of Islamic technology. For example, in the Qur’an Adam’s wife has no name, she is not held responsible for the transgression that leads to the couple being tempted by Satan to sample fruit from the forbidden tree. Both Adam and Eve share the blame and there is no charge that original sin lies solely at the feet of the woman. Yet in the exegesis of traditional scholars Adam’s wife becomes Hawa (Eve) and thus to some extent the story revealed in Genesis is appropriated. The classical collections of hadith by the ninth-century Persian scholars Imam Bukhari and Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, regarded as two of the most authentic and respected, make constant reference to Eve and depict her as the guilty party in the act of disobedience. They go even further and equate Eve’s alleged lead role in the act as symbolic of the capacity of women for weakness and betrayal. Despite having no sanction in the Qur’an this episode has become accepted in traditional scholarship and is used to support a patriarchal and misogynist strand among followers of Islam. Perhaps the makers of ATC2 had consulted these weighty volumes when they came up with Samantha’s Eve-like violation of the rules – rules that exist to save her from herself apparently. These manipulations add weight to the ‘different but equal’ mantra that often merely means that women must conform to society’s expectations as, just like the mobile-phone wielding girls in India, they are likely to abuse or are unable to handle any opportunities and freedoms made available to them.

“Another example relates to the Qur’anic verses about witnesses. The classical scholars have engineered a patriarchal reading of this verse to infer that a woman is worth half a man in terms of their reliability for testimony – thus further perpetuating the stereotype of the intellectually impaired, emotionally fragile and unreliable female. What nonsense! I cannot believe this is what God intended. The message here is obviously contextual. During the era of the revelation women were not involved in judicial, political and public affairs. They were subjugated and considered inferior. Islam set out to instill equality in society and the Prophet was an exemplar of this. He viewed women as equal in all senses to men. In light of his example and the spirit in which the Qur’an was revealed it seems obvious that the discussion of female testimony in the Qur’an is a technical solution to redress social norms, not a universal comment on a woman’s reliability as a witness. In fact Islam set about encouraging women to step forward and give legal testimony. By calling on two women to bear witness, Islam was pushing for women in society to be engaged in greater numbers, to represent themselves and support each other. When considered in relation to the Prophet’s overall attitude towards women, this interpretation seems to be the only sensible and fitting one.

“Reading Muslim literature on women, one can be forgiven for assuming that Islamic history has produced no female scholars and there are no accounts of women by women. However there are significant examples of female scholars and students of Islam at the time of the Prophet. A tradition of female scholars was also very much present in early Islam and so-called ‘alternate’ perspectives presented by women were part of the original body of work from which fiqh, Islamic jurisprudence, was derived. A comparative reading of hadith alongside the prevailing attitudes held in society lay bare the lie that the Prophet was in any way misogynistic. Women attended consultations held by the Prophet in mosques and argued and debated with him. The level of openness to women and the seeking out of female intellectual input was unprecedented for the time. Sadly, this was never matched in subsequent centuries. We only have to look at the negation of facilities for women in mosques to illustrate how far contemporary Muslims have deviated from the example of the Prophet. The mosque was intended as much more than a place of worship. The Prophet worked to create a space accessible to both men and women that would disseminate advice and guidance. Philosophical and theological discussions, education, and the settling of disagreements were to be made available to all who visited the mosque. The idea that they should become male-only domains with no provision for women is in contradiction with the Prophet’s aims. It seems that with the Prophet no longer alive to assert a pro-woman position, the prevailing cultural attitudes of the day meant that scholarship by women – works that are only latterly being rediscovered – became sidelined.” (ibid.; pp. 68-69).

Tarek Fatah’s well researched book, contains much material in support of the views quoted above. “The authoritarian and autocratic nature of sharia violates the Quran, which clearly declares that the responsibility of Prophets was not to govern, but only to deliver God’s message. In the Quran, God reminds Muhammad and the Muslims many times : “We have not sent thee to be their keeper”; “Say : I am not placed in charge of you”; “We have not appointed you a keeper over them, and you are not placed in charge of them”; “I am not a custodian over you”; “We have not sent thee [O Muhammad] as a warden over them”; “whoever errs, he errs only to its detriment; and you are not a custodian over them”; ”Thy duty is but to convey [the Message]”; “Therefore do remind, for you are only a reminder. You are not a watcher over them.” (Chasing a Mirage; p. 254).

Tartak Fatah cites a work by Hasan Mahmud, a Bangladeshi scholar to drive home the fundamental distinction between Islam, the faith sent to man by Allah’s Messenger, Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), and the later man-made sharia. “The fact remains that many sharia laws were at variance with the Quran. Hasan Mahmud’s book, Islam and Sharia, has a detailed list of sharia laws that violate corresponding Quranic verses, as well as the mechanism employed in such violation. Here are a few of the sharia laws he lists : The sharia law of stoning to death of adulterers violates chapter 24, verses 2 and 3; chapter 4, verses 15, 16 and 25. The Quran does not prescribe death sentence for adulterers, but accepts repentance for such an act. The sharia law requiring a raped woman to produce four adult male Muslim eyewitnesses to prove her case makes a mockery of the Quranic injunction that requires the state to produce four eyewitnesses to prove adultery : an almost impossibility. There are seldom four witnesses to a rape. Proof of rape under sharia is almost impossible. The sharia law rejecting women’s eyewitnesses in hudood or criminal cases violates chapter 24, verses 4 and 11-20. The verses require not the accused (as stipulated by sharia), but the accuser to produce four adult male eyewitnesses to prove adultery or fornication. The verses were revealed to stop men from unjustly accusing women of adultery. The sharia law permitting unrestricted polygamy violates chapter 4, verses 3, 4, and 127. Polygamy is admissible only in case of vulnerable orphans in specific circumstances and restricted by behaviour codes. The sharia law permitting the killing of apostates violates chapter 4, verse 94; chapter 2, verse 256; chapter 3, verse 88-89; chapter 16, verse 106. During the life of the Prophet, three persons are recorded as having left Islam. Not one of them faced the death penalty. The sharia law allowing a Muslim husband to issue an “instant” divorce to his wife violates chapter 2, verses 228 and 229, and chapter 65, verses 1 and 2. If a divorced Muslim woman wishes to re-marry her former husband, a sharia law makes it mandatory to her part to first marry a complete stranger, have sexual intercourse with him, and then obtain a voluntary divorce from this stranger. Only after she obtains this divorce is she permitted to remarry her former husband.” (pp. 256-257).

Nothing will help the Muslim get out of his depression unless he breaks from the shackles of the past and returns to the faith as preached by The Chosen One (PBUH).


[1] The author is an eminent Indian scholar and expert on constitutional issues.