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Ijtihad, Rethinking Islam (19 Jul 2017 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Islam’s Reform: Can Passages of the Quran Be Cherry-Picked — To Embrace What Is Appealing and To Skirt around What Is Not? That Is the Question

By Javed Anand

July 19, 2017

In his article on how religions evolve (‘Let’s talk to the Book’, IE, July 15), Ramesh Venkataraman makes the interesting proposition that the ongoing debate on triple Talaq in the country signals the welcome stirring of the reform process in Indian Islam. In parting, he should perhaps have urged Indian Muslims to speed up a bit. For in their slow march forward Indian Muslims are way behind their co-religionists elsewhere who have been asking tough questions of their Book, making bold demands of their faith and its followers. Not surprisingly, Muslims committed to universal human rights, gender justice, non-discrimination between citizens on grounds of religion etc face difficulties with many a Quranic verse.

On gender justice, a good example is the oft-quoted verse 4:34 (Venkataraman quotes it partially): “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly).”

Venkataraman quotes the philosopher Anthony Appiah as saying that the reform of Christianity 500 years ago was greatly facilitated by the fact that on encountering morally ambiguous, contradictory or problematic passages, ordinary Christians who started reading the Bible for themselves decided on “which passages to read into and which to read past.” Simply stated, the reformists chose to “cherry-pick” from among the passages of the Bible, embracing what was appealing, skirting around what seemed appalling.

But how do you “read past” any verse of the Quran if as a believing Muslim for you it is an absolute article of faith that the Quran is the Word of Allah revealed to Prophet Mohammed through the Archangel Gabriel? For a believing Muslim who agrees that any meaningful reform in Islam today must necessarily address the issue of equality between the sexes, there is no way to skirt around 4:34. You simply have to engage with it. But then, how do you reconcile your faith in an Allah who endorses male superiority and recommends wife-beating with your fidelity to the principle of gender justice?

To get around this thorny issue some current-day Muslims resort to a linguistic device, claiming that the Arabic word “darab” in the verse has meanings other than “beating”. The fact, however, is that the overwhelming majority of exegetes, the liberal ones included, accept the translation of “darab” (d-r-b) as physical chastisement. The only dispute is over issues such as at when it’s OK to beat and the permissible intensity of the beating (according to some a feather or a flower are the only permissible weapons). The late Moroccan Islamic scholar, Fatima Mernissi, notes that the immediate context of the revelation of verse 4:34 was a woman’s complaint to the Prophet that her husband had slapped her. The revelation then had necessarily to address the issue of wife-beating.

While this issue remains a knotty one, in recent years several women (and men) scholars of Islam — Mernissi, Amina Wadud, Riffat Hassan, Asma Barlas among others — have credibly argued that the Quran is a gender-sensitive document. For them, it is the exegetes with patriarchal mindsets who are responsible for having read patriarchy into the Quran. For example, in her book, Believing women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Quran, Asma Barlas argues: “The Quran recognises men as the locus of power and authority in actually existing patriarchies. However, recognising the existence of patriarchy, or addressing one, is not the same as advocating it”.

Interestingly, while many Muslim women scholars and activists see Allah as being entirely on their side in their “gender jihad” against the patriarchs of Islam (ulama), South Africa’s Farid Esack, a male educated in a Pakistani madrasa, a believing, practising Muslim, an Imam to boot, has an interesting point to make. Esack agrees that the Quran does contain “sufficient seeds for those committed to human rights and gender justice to live in fidelity to its underlying ethos”. But he argues that the liberal Muslim claim that “the Quran is a Magna Carta of gender justice does not withstand the scrutiny of critical scholarship”. In a paper titled, “What Do Men Owe to Women? Islam & Gender Justice: Beyond Simplistic Apologia”, Esack labels several renowned “liberal” Islamic scholars as “Islam’s apologists”.

To drive his point home, Esack quotes the late Anglican Bishop Kenneth Cragg who observed: “The eternal cannot enter time without a time when it enters. Revelation to history cannot occur outside it. A prophet cannot arise except in a generation and a native land, directives from heaven cannot impinge upon an earthly vacuum.” In other words, constrained by the time and place of revelation — seventh century Arabia — the Quran could not possibly be a Magna Carta of gender justice, speaking the language of the 21st century. (Even today, 15 centuries later, gender injustice plagues the world cutting across communities, countries and cultures).

Mernissi says the same thing differently: “If men had need of God, God also had need of men”. In her book, Women and Islam, she points out that the gender question almost precipitated a civil war within the very first generation of Muslims. “Faced with the difficult choice — equality between the sexes or the survival of Islam — the genius of Mohammed and the greatness of his God shows in the fact that at least at the beginning of the seventh century the question was posed and the community was pushed to reflect on it”. She blames the later exegetes for not pushing the envelope.

Esack who has issues not only with verse 4:34 but with others too pertaining to gender has no hesitation saying: “If a choice has to be made between violence towards the text and textual legitimisation of violence against real people (women) then I would be comfortable to plead guilty to charges of violence against the text”. Esack has no difficulty in quarrelling with the Book for “my theology is about a God that is essentially just and compassionate”.

Notwithstanding the differences between the different strands within Islam — traditional, liberal, progressive, extremist — one thing has remained a constant among most believing Muslims: The belief that the Quran is the Word of Allah.

But now enters a British Muslim, Hassan Radwan. In an article recently published by the online portal New Age Islam, he makes an altogether radical prescription for salvaging Islam from “the hard-line literalists undermining the soul of a loving, universal creed”. According to him, “Liberal and progressive interpretations depend mostly on nuanced readings of the Quran and Sunna, or forcing new meanings out of them. But by playing the extremists’ game of interpreting the texts, we allow them a semblance of legitimacy. We also give them the opportunity to come back with theological workarounds”.

So, what is to be done? Radwan’s answer: “We Muslims need to take the bold step of challenging the very idea that the Quran and Sunna are infallible.” But how can the Quran, the word of God, be fallible? Simple. “The Quran is not the speech of God”, he maintains, quoting several modern-day Muslim scholars as also quite a few from the early period of Islam in support.

According to Radwan, once Muslims accept that the Quran is not the Word of God, they can “unashamedly cherry-pick” from among the Quranic verses, accepting the good ones and rejecting the bad. Like the Christian reformists did 500 years ago?

Javed Anand is general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy, and co-editor, ‘Communalism Combat’

Related Article:

Is Islamic Reform Possible? 'Should We Just Accept That Quran Is Not Perfect, Infallible Word of God, If Nearly All Muslims Misunderstand It?'


Source: indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/islams-reform-way-to-go-triple-talaq-quran-4756857/

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/ijtihad,-rethinking-islam/javed-anand/islam’s-reform---can-passages-of-the-quran-be-cherry-picked-—-to-embrace-what-is-appealing-and-to-skirt-around-what-is-not?-that-is-the-question/d/111882


  • Dear Agnostic reader,
    You comment is very thought provoking.
    Why the Qur'an was accepted by the vanquished communities in the early centuries and is being challenged this day even by some Muslims and openly by others is because the people in that era were religious minded. They want a just, egalitarian and intelligent religion. They found this in the Qur'an.

    Today the people are not at all religious minded. They subconsciously want nothing to do with the Qur'an's moral bidding. While so much is written about Islam's military campaigns, nothing is written about its war against the animal self of man that led to its widespread acceptance.

    In its first revelation entrusting Muhammad with the Prophetic role (74th chapter verse 1-5) it asked him to shun all defilement of  mind -  and the text of the entire Qur'an is its battle against the defilement of human mind   – arrogance, selfishness, greed, gluttony, prejudice, hatred, bigotry, injustice, anger, vengeance, stinginess, fraud, self-righteousness, giving oneself to excesses, sexual freedom, and taking pleasure in doing what is evil and forbidden. The Qur’an persistently scares human of dreadful consequences for succumbing to the defilements of mind. Its essential message is to purify one’s soul, do good and righteous deeds, cultivate excellent moral conduct and behavior, excel in lawful deeds and professions, forgive past enemies, collaborate with them in all that is good, love and care of all including the strangers and the downtrodden humanity and share and pay generously for all good and services for better circulation of wealth. There are other moral strings that were relevant to the era of revelation that included freeing of slaves, forbiddence of adultery, arbitrary punishment, all round empowerment of women and so forth .

     This message is not welcome today - but the Qur'an has a magic of its own. The vast majority of Muslims have no iota of doubt in their mind that it is a divine book and no amount of argument can change their mind.

    Anyway, how does it matter to whoever authored the Qur'an if some ignorant people want to dismiss it and free themselves from all its moral bidding. 
    Thanks for posting your comment.  

    By muhammd yunus - 7/23/2017 8:06:52 AM

  • I am not a Muslim. I was born into another faith, but became an Agnostic at a young age. And, I have been a reader of New Age Islam Newsletter from its inception. These are my credentials for those who may question what business do I have to comment on Muslim matters.
        I feel that we must try to understand why Quran and Mohammed acquired such pre-eminence in the minds of Muslims, far higher than say Budhdha or Jesus or any other founder of a religion. 
         I think the reason is the spectacular spread of Islam in such a short period. Within just hundred years of the death of Mohammed, Islam spread from Spain in the West to Indus on the east. Christianity and Buddhism took two to three centuries to get a foothold.      
         How did a bunch of hither-to infighting tribesmen conquer with ease such vast territory? How were they accepted by the defeated populace as undisputed rulers?  Naturally, early followers of Mohammed would have asked themselves the reason for such unprecedented success. They would have concluded, for lack of a better alternative, that Allah must have willed it thus and Islam made the difference. Therefore Quran, Allah's message, was seen as containing all that one need know; flawless and valid till eternity.
          Mohammed, Allah's messenger, became perfection embodied. What he said, what he might have said and what he would have said became guiding principles for Muslims. Muslims were exceptional, born to rule.
         This exceptionalism was transmitted through generations and Muslims imbibe it with their mother's milk. Undoubtedly, there was much to glory about Muslim civilisation at its peak. They brought prosperity; encouraged arts and sciences; pragmatism, not bigotry, governed their behaviour.  Although there were reverses here and there, the sense of supremacism prevailed.
          The dlemma of Muslims, I believe, is how to reconcile their exceptionalism with their downfall in modern times. If Quran was the inspiration behind their earlier successes, why has it failed them in the hour of need? The only conclusion that can be drawn is that Quran, in some aspects, is not infallible. The other explanation that it was a conspiracy of Christians, Jews and Hindus to outwit them may be more palatable but will only lead to Jehad and terrorism, not Muslim revival.
          Whether Quran needs reinterpretation or editing or revision or expurgation is a matter only Muslims can and should decide. A cardiac patient needs electric shock to revive the heart. If delayed, worse will follow.
    New Age Isam and its team of dedicated questioners are doing great job and need  all Muslims interested in their future to take part in the debate.
    Warm regards.

    By An agnostic reader - 7/20/2017 9:54:15 PM

  • Esack's assertion, "my theology is about a God that is essentially just and compassionate,” will have many takers. It permits him to uphold the Quran as a revelation while disowning the passages that are not just and compassionate.

    The Quran may be seen as an elaboration on the basic and eternal themes of righteousness and accoutability. An elaboration is valid for its time. Newer exigeses should reflect the ethos of their times.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 7/19/2017 11:41:11 AM

  • The Qur'an is well aware of the complexity of its diction and accordingly it commands humanity to to probe its verses (38:29, 47:24) with a positive state of mind (56:79). It calls for focusing only on the definitive verses – such as those free from any ambiguity or confusion  (3:7) and seeking the best meaning in it (39:18, 39:55). It also claims to be a book of wisdom (10:1, 31:2, 43:4, 44:4) made clear and distinct (12:1, 15:1, 16:64, 26:2, 27:1, 36:69, 43:2, 44:2) with all kinds of illustrations (17:89, 18:54, 30:58, 39:27), and its own best interpretation (25:33), and completion (5:3).

    As regards any suggestion to make any alteration in the Qur'an, not one single Muslim who believes the Qur'an to be divine will accept the proposition bearing in mind the Qur'an's claim to preservation of its integrity (6:115, 15:9, 85:21) and its following  warning to the Prophet:

    “If he (Muhammad) attributed to Us any false speech (69:44), We would seize him by the right hand (45), then We would sever his aorta (46) and none of you could prevent it (69:47).

     Moreover any suggestion that the Qur'an was composed by the Prophet and or his companions and so can be tampered by humans today is patently absurd for if that

    were so, it would have come to light immediately after the death of the Prophet and not 14 centuries later.

      Finally, I must add that    the British ex-Muslim Radwan makes some good point in that all reform movements have been retrogressive but rather than blaming the reform-ideologues he is blaming the Qur'an. I find his thinking flawed.
    By muhammd yunus - 7/19/2017 7:59:39 AM

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