By Saif Shahin, New Age Islam
20 June, 2011
Text and Context: Quran and Contemporary Challenges
By Arif Mohammed Khan
Rupa & Co.
Pp 306, Rs395/-
IS ISLAM inherently violent? Are Muslims in India and the world over condemned by their faith to remain steeped in illiteracy, intolerance and radicalism? Or can they meet the modern world, the world of democracy, women’s rights and multiculturalism, on its own terms?
Arif Mohammed Khan thinks they can. And in Text and Context: Quran and Contemporary Challenges, a collection of his newspaper and magazine articles published over the past decade or so, this rare scholar-politician tells us why.
As the name suggests, the essays here tackle a host of issues that have beset Indian Muslims in particular and the global ummah in general in recent years from a Quranic perspective.
What is more, Khan takes care to provide the contexts in which many of these issues arose, as well as the contexts in which the Quranic injunctions he refers to were revealed—showing how critical contextualisation is for a proper understanding of such issues and injunctions.
Take, for instance, the issue of ‘triple talaq’. Those who use Quranic verses to justify a divorce by three pronouncements at one go rarely tell you that Prophet Muhammad, when informed about someone, who had done so, stood up in anger and said: “You are making sport of the Book of God.” Or, that Caliph Umar had such people whipped!
Another common practice is to call some people ‘kafir’, or non-believer, and declare war upon them. Khan says the practice started at a meeting of Deoband clerics in 1945 after one group split from Jamiatul Ulema to support the Muslim League.
“A perusal of the minutes of the meeting,” writes Khan, “shows that ideologically both groups held similar views and their dispute were confined to the question whether their interests would be served better in a united India or in Pakistan.”
Abuse of ayats
To justify his political and self-serving decision to support the Muslim League, Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani resorted to the misuse of religion, declaring all non-Muslims as one group of kafirs and all Muslims as united against them.
Today, of course, it’s not just non-Muslims who are thus damned; the clergy of virtually every Muslim sect calls all other sects kafirs who must be annihilated in the name of Islam.
Where does the Quran stand on this issue? Khan writes: “The Quran, unlike the clergy, acknowledges that all people have been recipients of divine guidance and uses the term ‘kafir’ for individuals and groups who deny the truth and arrogantly indulge in persecution and mischief. The Quran does not use the term Kafir to describe any religious denomination or community.”
Khan goes on to challenge Islamist exclusivism and violence-mongering as a religious cause by enunciating Quran’s emphasis on restraint and thoughtful action. The Quran, he says, has more than two dozen verses highlighting the importance of the virtue of moderation and strongly denouncing extremist behaviour in religion and other matters.
In addition, the Quran has more than 500 verses exhorting believers to reflect and contemplate. The Prophet, Khan says, is believed to have declared that an hour’s reflection is better than worshipping God for seventy years.
“The teachings of Islam and the prophetic exhortations had created an unquenchable thirst for knowledge of subjects hitherto unknown,” writes Khan. “Islam made no distinction between religious and natural sciences. On the contrary, it made a distinction between knowledge and ignorance…”
It was this aspect of Islam that made Muslims purveyors of science and philosophy; intellectual adventurers who took Eastern knowledge to Europe and helped usher in the Renaissance.
Route to reform
Text and Context relies heavily on the works of Indian Muslim reformers like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad to make its case for modernising the Muslim milieu and inter-community harmony.
It quotes Sir Syed as saying at an Amritsar college: “The College is indeed for national education. And by nation, I do not mean one community, I mean both Hindus and Muslims. They both should study in this institution and learn good manners. We may describe ourselves as Hindus and Muslims, but foreigners call us Indians.”
Maulana Azad went a step further, and said in 1923: “These thousand years of our joint life have moulded us into a common nationality. This cannot be done artificially. Nature does her fashioning through her hidden processes in the course of centuries. The cast has now been moulded and destiny has her seal upon it. Whether we like it or not, we now have become an Indian nation, united and indivisible.”
Azad was proved wrong in calling the nation “indivisible” a quarter century later. But six decades hence, “Islamic” Pakistan’s abject failure as a state and its transformation into something redolent of the pre-Islamic Jahiliya period, an age of tribal wars and utter lawlessness—in contrast with plural India’s rise as a global power where Muslims live largely in peace with non-Muslims—shows that his thinking was right.
Both Sir Syed and Maulana Azad were criticised by clerics for their supposedly “anti-Islamic” teachings and actions. History repeats itself, and people like Khan face the same charge today for trying to represent Islam as tolerant and forward-looking rather than bellicose and bigoted.
That is because it is such bellicosity and bigotry that give rise to Islamophobia, which in turn leads to discrimination and attacks on Muslims in India and worldwide, creates a sense of victimisation in the community and builds the grounds on which “Muslim leaders” and “Muslim sympathetic parties” can ply their trade.
Khan had to resign as a Union minister in 1986 when the Congress government, pandering to the Muslim clergy, overturned a Supreme Court judgement in the momentous Shah Bano case. It was a moment of weakness whose ill effects are still being felt by Indian Muslims.
The self-serving clergy will remain what it has always been, but Muslims can change by turning their back on it as they embark on a difficult road illuminated by the text of the Quran—in its proper context.
In the Quran, being Final Revelation, Allah spells out and defines certain key concepts including the nature of Allah (There is no worldly example like Him). He does not have partners or other divinities who share his governance. He does not need them. All, apart from Him are His creation. He is known by His attributes but man is not to create idols representing those attributes. His attributes include Rahman, Raheem, As Salalm, Al Mu'min, etc. etc. These are spread out in the pages Qur'an so as to avoid any subjective speculation.
So that man does not complain or put up and excuse, Allah spells out the right concept of God Almighty and tells us that He is not a triune God. A man cannot be God or God cannot be a man and that God must not be represented by idols and statues.
We also learn that God also makes his business to provide guidance in different spheres of life including family, social relations, economics, justice, human rights etc. God is not a statue or an idol that needs regular worshipping (pooja) but He like a Guide who provided guidance and following and obeying His guidance is like worshipping him.
After spelling out all principles, man is left alone to choose what way he wants to go as there is no compulsion in religion. However, man must remember, he will be faced with the consequences with the choices he makes, both in this and the world hereafter as every action has a reaction and this world operates on the basis of law of consequences.
Once we choose a way, we are not to impose or fight about it with each other. We are to compete in doing well for humanity.
There is Islam (living and believing in peaceful existence) and Al Islam which means living in peace according to a tradition based on revelation. We need to pay attention to the word Islam which comes from the root word S L M (Salamti) and Muslim (One who believes in Salamti) and Al Islam and Al Muslim!!
As for Jews (Br Anwar) they do not split God and believe in strict monotheism, so I don't know why they are being lumped with Christians and idol worshippers)?
Thank you everyone for a riveting discussion. Whether we agree or disagree, the fact that my piece made some of us rethink received notions about religion, revisit the Quran and have a relook at several important verses is rewarding in itself. My particular thanks to Mr Anwar and Mr Reyaz, who always share their opinions boldly and honestly with us on this and other issues. Keep it going.
What is the similarity between Arif Mohammad khan and Paras Rajput. Read some lines of Arif Mohammad khan. He clearly conveys the violence and intolerance as the version of Islam just like Paras Rajput after reading books of Arun Shorie. Khan writes: “The Quran, unlike the clergy, acknowledges that all people have been recipients of divine guidance and uses the term ‘kafir’ for individuals and groups who deny the truth and arrogantly indulge in persecution and mischief. The Quran does not use the term Kafir to describe any religious denomination or community.”
Khan goes on to challenge Islamist exclusivism and violence-mongering as a religious cause by enunciating Quran’s emphasis on restraint and thoughtful action.
For hearing the thoughts and similarity of critic like, arif a BJP Politician, shorie and Paras analyse it yourself, there is intolerant or disturbing message. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivEhPmAZlwM
@Brother Mubashir. Quran considers muslim faith or truth prevailed before prophet mohammad(pbuh) and considers abrahim (pbuh) as muslim as he joined not gods with Allah.," Abraham was not a Jew nor yet a Christian, but he was true in faith and bowed his will to Allah's (which is Islam) and he joined not gods with Allah. (Quran3:67)
Brother present jews and christians have joined partner,s to Allah, as they considered their prophet as son of god, so the people among them believing in one god without associating partners and torah & injeel as revelations of their times are righteous.
"They do blaspheme who say: "Allah is Christ the son of Mary." But said Christ: "O children of Israel! worship Allah, my Lord, and your Lord." Whoever joins other gods with Allah?Allah will forbid him the Garden and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrong-doers be no one to help. (72) They disbelieve who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One God. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them. (73)" (Quran 5: 72-73)
The verses quoted by you according to Abdullah Yusuf Ali translation is "Those who reject (Truth), among the People of the Book and among the Polytheists, will be in Hell-fire, to dwell therein (for aye). They are the worst of creatures." (Quran 98:6)
"Those who believe (in the Qur'an) and those who follow the Jewish (Scriptures) and the Christians and the Sabians, any who believe in Allah and the Last Day and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve." (Quran2:62)
Good commentary on a good book. But too late. Our nation has reached a point of no return. But I do believe in miracles.
Maybe by the grace of God things will turn around.
Amen, Syed Rizvi
98:6 Verily, those who are bent on denying the Truth, be they among the People of the Scripture or the idol worshipers under any guise, will abide in Hell. They (who see the Truth and then deny it) are the worst of all created beings.How about:2:62 Surely the believers and the Jews, Nazareans and the Sabians, whoever believes in God and the Last Day, and whosoever does right, shall have his reward with his Lord and will neither have fear nor regret.So, is there a contradiction? Or is there a better translation/explanation?And then:5:48 And unto thee [O Prophet] have We vouchsafed this divine writ, setting forth the truth, confirming the truth of whatever there still remains of earlier revelations and determining what is true therein. Judge, then, between the followers of earlier revelation in accordance with what God has bestowed from on high, and do not follow their errant views, forsaking the truth that has come unto thee. 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.Comments please. And remember, before you start, Allah says there is no contradiction in His Message.Thanks!
@Saif ShahinI as a Muslim and all Muslims believe that Quran is the word of Allah (subhanetalah) received as wahi to prophet Mohammad (pbuh) through angel jibrael with timely revelations for 23 years."And if ye are in doubt as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our servant, then produce a Surah like there unto; and call your witnesses or helpers (if there are any) besides Allah, if your (doubts) are true. " [Surah2. verse 23]"O’ mankind, we have created you from male and female and have made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Indeed the most noblest of you with Allah is the one who has the most piety." [Surah al-Hujuraat 49:13]"Say: "If the whole of mankind and Jinns were to gather together to produce the like of this Qur'an, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they backed up each other with help and support." [Qur'an 17:88]The life of this world is alluring to those who reject faith, and they scoff at those who believe. But the righteous will be above them on the Day of Resurrection; for Allah bestows His abundance without measures on whom He will. ( Quran 2:212)Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from Error; whoever rejects Evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.( Quran 2:256)Say: O ye that reject Faith! (1) I worship not that which ye worship, (2) Nor will ye worship that which I worship. (3) And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship, (4) Nor will ye worship that which I worship. (5) To you be your Way, and to me mine. (6) .( Quran 109:1-6) Fighting is prescribed for you and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth and ye know not. (216) They ask thee concerning fighting in the Prohibited Month. Say: "Fighting therein is a grave (offence); but graver is it in the sight of Allah to prevent access to the path of Allah, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its members. Tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter. Nor will they cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith if they can. And if any of you turn back from their faith and die in unbelief, their works will bear no fruit in this life and in the Hereafter; they will be Companions of the Fire and will abide therein..( Quran 2:216-217) We should respect each other religions feelings. The categorization of religion of Islam as a fountain of intolerance, radicalism due to ignorance and aberration of its followers without introspecting their position and efforts for society which Allah have provided to them. The fighting should be avoided and there should be tolerance but substitute to tumult and oppression by aggressors.
My comment may be different from the text or from the comments on it. Before I start writing I salute Professor Mashooq Ali Khan Sahib my Professor of History From 1001 A.D. to Modern History that is from the First Ivasion of Mahmud Ghaznavi Till Modern Times.
He once said Why do you say that Muslims killed Hindus only? It may be true that in the beginning Hindus were mostly the victims. But then it became Foreign Muslim Invaders versus Muslim Kings of India and the public including the Muslims. Whole sale slaughter in Delhi by Nadir Shah did not spare Muslims. He looted Muslim Emperor and married his daughters without consent. Abdli Completed the loot. One General of Abdali was a Hindu.
Hindus and Sikhs were at very high posts including Member of Majlis in Afghanistan during the days of Shah. There were Holidays for Hindu festivals. I have a Hindu Friend who fought in Afghan Army.There are Hindus and Sikhs living peacefully in Iran even today.
It all depends on the interpreter. Some one will interpret as Shakespeare Says : Even a Devil can cite Scripture. Others do not Break the Rule but Bend the Rule for Common Good. There is an Italian Rule : Common Good is the highest law. So is the Holy Quran which stands for the Highest good of Human beings. Any Interpretation which is against this Highest Law of Common Good is contrary to the Holy Quran. This is my humble opinion and I am not a Religious Scholar. I beg apology if it is contrary to the Interptretation of Religious Scholars.
Anyone who believes in the Quran as the word of Allah, as I suppose Mr. Anwar and many other readers of NewAgeIslam.com do, will perhaps agree with these two points:
(a) It is naïve to expect everyone to agree with what any one person says or writes, for even the Quran has been unable to bring about such unity of belief in 14 centuries. Hence, every interpretation of the Quran, or of what Islam means, will always have some believers and some disbelievers.
(b) Perhaps Allah doesn’t want everyone to have one way of looking at Islam. He, being all powerful, could have made it so if He wanted to. Also, when the Quran calls for ijtihad, for people to reflect upon their faith, it is in full knowledge of the fact that this may lead to as many interpretations of Islam as there are Muslims.
In this light, I do not expect everyone to agree with what I have written, or with what Arif Mohammed Khan has written about the Quran and Islam in general. But the whole point is to allow for such pluralism of belief, to let different people have their own way of looking at Islam—without resorting to violence, without killing people who don’t agree with a particular interpretation.
That is what the Quran repeatedly warns against, through ayats like ‘Lakum deenakum waleya deen’ (for you your faith, for me mine) and by saying that prophets have been sent to every community.
Liberalism isn’t one particular way of looking at Islam, it is allowing everyone to have their own way. I may be a hardcore Deobandi Muslim myself—but if I respect a Berelvi’s approach to Islam, or a Hindu, Christian or Jew’s approach to the concept of God or how to pray, knowing that the Quran allows and even encourages such differences, I will be a liberal too.
I think that is what it truly means to be a Muslim—although, of course, you may disagree!
This is the kind of article that I like to see in NewAgeIslam. It is true to what I assume to be the mission of this site, namely promoting and advocating liberalism, tolerance, pluralism and learning.
Read and introspect yourself brothers and sisters. Surah bayyinah, 98.
Those who reject (Truth), among the People of the Book and among the Polytheists, were not going to depart (from their ways) until there should come to them Clear Evidence? (1) A messenger from Allah, rehearsing scriptures kept pure and holy: (2) Wherein are laws (or decrees) right and straight. (3) Nor did the people of the Book make schisms, until after there came to them Clear Evidence. (4) And they have been commanded no more than this: to worship Allah, offering Him sincere devotion, being true (in faith); to establish regular Prayer; and to practice regular Charity; and that is the Religion Right and Straight. (5) Those who reject (Truth), among the People of the Book and among the Polytheists, will be in Hell-fire, to dwell therein (for aye). They are the worst of creatures. (6) Those that have faith and do righteous deeds? they are the best of creatures. (7) Their reward is with Allah: Gardens of Eternity beneath which rivers flow; they will dwell therein for ever; Allah well pleased with them, and they with Him: all this for such as fear their Lord and Cherisher. (8)
Arif Mohammad khan is a known Muslim basher and politician of BJP his comments are as critic writer and mostly he describes, Quran by doing travel of Quran describing the hidden meaning of literal translation. He mostly quotes Hadith without references and deaf (weak chain of narration or isnad) hadith.Muslims following mysticism mostly follow talaaq e biddah as in Deoband and Barelvi school of thoughts but in light of quran and hadith things is different. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuKy9CWRl8I Muslims will reform by themselves, and no need of islamphobe Muslim writer. Muslims are changing the cultures of world, InsaAllah things will change don’t be so skeptical.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-3X5hIFXYU