Foreword

What are the issues

These reflections sum up a few issues that the author developed as a result of working in Islamic education in Malaysia for fifteen years.  These encompass the question of how the Quran relates to earlier revelations, problematic assumptions in jurisprudence,  and Quran literacy.

Aim of this book

These issues have unnecessarily added to tensions between the Muslim world and the West. To reduce tensions, it is advisable to highlight the shared spiritual roots of both civilisations. This book intends to make a contribution in that direction.

Understanding the Quran

Quran literacy

It is well known that not a few Muslims are able to recite the Quran but do not always understand what they recite. This is due partly to an excessive attention to form at the expense of substance. Without understanding the Quran, it is difficult if not impossible to follow its guidance. Thus, steps need to be taken to ensure better Quran literacy.

Reading for Meaning

It is important to read the book for its meaning. The meaning could be discussed in classes on the Quran. Speakers could be invited to give talks on the Quran. There should be an atmosphere of lively exchange.

Roots of the law

Quran

The Quran, understood by Muslims to be the word of God, is the first root of the law. The Quran teaches first and foremost monotheism, the Day of Judgment, the need to develop God-consciousness, to act with justice, and the responsibility to abide by the word of God. In addition, the Quran teaches ethics, and provides detailed information on inheritance and other issues.  The Quran contains a few legal rulings, forbidding killing, adultery, theft and slanderous accusation.

Islam

What the Quran teaches

Islam grew out of the Quran. To understand Islam it is therefore necessary first to understand the message of the Quran.

The Quran teaches God-consciousness or piety. It is important to develop God-consciousness for several reasons. 

First, we should be thankful for the favours we receive from the Creator. It is only good manners to be grateful. 

Second, God-consciousness helps us gain knowledge of the bigger picture and how we fit within the scheme of things. It makes it easier for us to follow guidance of the Quran. 

Third, God-consciousness restrains man from committing sins and crimes, for a person knows that he or she will be accountable for all his or her actions on Judgment Day.

The Quran presents itself as an affirmation of the earlier revelations. The Quran teaches monotheism, that there is only one God.

It emphasises sincerity and censures hypocrisy. It counsels sharing and condemns stinginess. It warns of the Day of Judgment. It teaches that mankind was endowed with an excellent fitrah or nature.

The Quran teaches individual responsibility. The pious will have their reward in the Garden, while the wicked will be dwellers of the Fire.

It also teaches kindness to parents, strangers and orphans. It exhorts man to spend in the way of God. It teaches that human reason alone is insufficient to provide complete guidance to mankind.

The Quran relates many of the stories also told in the Old Testament, and a few from the New Testament.

What the Quran does not teach

The Quran does not teach death penalty for adultery or apostasy. These come from traditions attributed to the prophet. Neither does it teach that blasphemy is punishable by death. The latter has been extrapolated by the work of jurists.

[Disclaimer: Readers are advised to check the veracity of the statements made in this post for themselves. If any reader finds an error in this post, kindly inform me].

How tradition overshadowed revelation

Emergence of political Islam

In the relationship of revelation to tradition, revelation holds primacy. Yet over time tradition appears to have ‘eclipsed’ revelation to the point that following tradition became as urgent as following revelation, if not more so.

Following tradition would not be a problem as long as tradition reflected revelation. It would become an issue, however, where tradition departs from revelation, as with the punishments for apostasy and adultery. The entry of both into the sharia was enabled by the view that tradition is able to  abrogate revelation.

Both punishments reflect following tradition in preference to revelation. Yet the tradition followed was not that of the prophet. The prophet never punished anyone for apostasy. The punishment for apostasy was adopted subsequently, during the “wars of apostasy,” and was due to political reasons, where apostasy became conflated with treason.

In this way, the sharia acquired a political character, where the threat of punishing apostates provided the basis for enforcing “unity.”

[Disclaimer: Readers are advised to check the veracity of the statements made in this post for themselves. If any reader finds an error in this post, kindly inform me].

Reconstructing the Sharia

Rehabilitation of jurisprudence

It is apparent from the foregoing that there are a few issues in the way Islamic law developed. In order to make way for tradition to become a root of the law, a number of assumptions had to be made.

Prominent among these assumptions were the following:

  1. Quran has ambiguous passages.
  2. Tradition is revelation.
  3. Tradition is a higher authority than reason
  4. Tradition can abrogate the Quran.

The first of these assumptions enabled engaging traditions to “explain” the Quran. The second enabled tradition to become a root of the law. The third protected tradition from a critical evaluation by reason. The fourth enabled rulings to be brought into the sharia that have no basis in the Quran.

The problem with these assumptions is that they are unwarranted by the Quran. Several principles of jurisprudence were violated in the process, among which was the need to maintain the priority of revelation (Quran) in relation to tradition at all times.

Nowhere did the failure to maintain the supremacy of the Quran as the chief “root” of the law manifest itself more than in the theory of the abrogation of revelation by tradition.

It is because jurists endorsed the abrogation of revelation by tradition that punishments were incorporated into the shariah which have no basis in the Quran, and in fact go against it.

Upholding the Quran

Muhammad Iqbal called for the “reconstruction of Islamic thought.” Islamic thought includes the sharia.

To bring the sharia in agreement with the Quran, the notion of the abrogation of revelation by tradition has to be suspended and the shariah reconstructed in a way that no ruling contradicts the Quran.

Reconstructing the sharia should help restore to Islam its original spirit of inclusiveness, mercy and forgiveness.

Reevaluation of traditions

A re-evaluation of traditions will be required, and traditions that go against the spirit or letter of the Quran should be jettisoned. No tradition whose meaning runs counter to the teaching of the Quran should be retained and permitted to be a “root of the sharia.”

The methodology of the authentication of traditions should also be revisited. The principle of the agreement of the content of tradition with the Quran should be rigorously applied at every stage of the process of formulating the law.

[Disclaimer: Readers are advised to check the veracity of the statements made in this post for themselves. If any reader finds an error in this post, kindly inform me].

When did Islam begin?

A few people are of the view that Islam began with the prophet Muhammad. Yet this is not what the Quran teaches: 

“Say: ‘I am not an innovation among the Messengers, and I know not what shall be done with me or with you. I only follow what is revealed to me; I am only a clear warner.’” (Q, 46:9, Arberry). Elsewhere the Quran says:

“He has laid down for you as religion that He charged Noah with, and that We have revealed to thee, and that We charged Abraham with, Moses and Jesus: ‘Perform the religion, and scatter not regarding it. Very hateful is that for the idolaters, that thou callest them to. God chooses unto Himself whomsoever He will, and He guides to Himself whosoever turns, penitent.” (Quran, 42:13, Arberry).

Thus, it hardly comes as a surprise that the Quran refers to a a few persons before the prophet Muhammad as Muslims. For example, in their prayer Abraham and Ismail refer to themselves as “Muslims”: 

“… and, our Lord, make us submissive to Thee, and of our seed a nation submissive to Thee; and show us our holy rites, and turn towards us; surely Thou turnest, and art All-compassionate;” (Q, 2:128, Arberry).

The Quran refers to Abraham as a “Muslim” in another verse:

“No; Abraham in truth was not a Jew, neither a Christian; but he was a Muslim and one pure of faith; certainly he was never of the idolaters.” (Q, 3:67, Arberry). 

The disciples of Jesus also refer to themselves as Muslims:

“And when I inspired the Apostles: ‘Believe in Me and My Messenger’; they said, ‘We believe; witness Thou our submission.’” (Q, 5:111, Arberry).

The sorcerers contending with Moses eventually also refer to themselves as Muslims:

“Thou takest vengeance upon us only because we have believed in the signs of our Lord when they came to us. Our Lord, pour out upon us patience, and gather us unto Thee surrendering.” (Q, 7:126, Arberry).

Moses refers to his followers as Muslims:

“Moses said, ‘O my people, if you believe in God, in Him put your trust, if you have surrendered.’” (Q, 10: 84, Arberry).

Similarly, Yusuf refers to himself as a “Muslim”:

“O my Lord, Thou hast given me to rule, and Thou hast taught me the interpretation of tales. O Thou, the Originator of the heavens and earth, Thou art my Protector in this world and the next. O receive me to Thee in true submission, and join me with the righteous.” (Q, 12:101, Arberry).

The Quran states that it was Abraham who named his people “Muslims.” 

“… and struggle for God as is His due, for He has chosen you, and has laid on you no impediment in your religion, being the creed of your father Abraham; He named you Muslims aforetime and in this, that the Messenger might be a witness against you, and that you might be witnesses against mankind. So perform the prayer, and pay the alms, and hold you fast to God; He is your Protector — an excellent Protector, an excellent Helper.” (Q, 22:78, Arberry).

The queen in her encounter with Solomon is similarly referred to as “Muslim.” 

“So, when she came, it was said, ‘Is thy throne like this?’ She said, ‘It seems the same.’ And we were given the knowledge before her, and we were in surrender,” (Q, 27:42, also 27: 31, 38, Arberry).

The Quran also says that the recipients of the earlier revelation say:

“… and, when it is recited to them, they say, “We believe in it; surely it is the truth from our Lord. Indeed, even before’ it we had surrendered.” Q, 28:53, Arberry).

Reference is made to “Muslims” by the guests of Abraham:

“… but We found not therein except one house of those that have surrendered themselves. (Q, 51:36, Arberry).

[Disclaimer: Readers are advised to check the veracity of the statements made in this post for themselves. If any reader finds an error in this post, kindly inform me].