By Victor Edwin SJ, New Age Islam
16 August 2015
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, noted New
Delhi-based Islamic scholar and head of the Centre for Peace and Spirituality
interviewed by Victor Edwin, a Jesuit scholar who teaches Islam and
Christian-Muslim Relations at the Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi, one of
India’s leading Jesuit centres for higher religious learning.
Muslims are accustomed to see Christians as rivals. Does the Qur’an teach
Muslims to engage with Christians as their rivals?
MWK: Muslims have
viewed Christians as their rivals instead of looking at them as partners. This
was a big mistake that they made. For long, I used to think about why the Quran
advises Muslims to help God just as the disciples of Jesus said that they would
be God’s helpers. The verse in the Quran which mentions this is in the chapter
“Believers, be God’s helpers, as Jesus, son of
Mary, said to the disciples, ‘Who will be my helpers in the cause of God?’ The
disciples said, ‘We shall be God’s helpers.’ Some of the Children of Israel
believed in him and some denied the truth; We supported the believers against
their enemies and they triumphed over them.” (61:14)
the basis of this verse, I have developed a theme—and that is that Muslims,
throughout history, considered Christians as rivals, but, instead, they should
have taken them as partners. This is the message given to Muslims by this
Every people have a psyche or mindset. Muslims
also have a mindset. You cannot change the Muslim mindset unless you explain to
them that your point of view has been derived from the Quran. Any other kind of
argument is not going to appeal to them. If you want to develop rethinking in
Muslims regarding any particular attitude of theirs, you will have to give a
message from the Quran which makes them realize that they had deviated from
VE: What is
this pattern of the Christians that in this verse God has asked Muslims to
should be noted that Islam began and developed in circumstances very different
from that of Christianity. Europe became the centre for the development of
Christianity after Constantine accepted the Christian faith. Before this,
Jerusalem had been the centre of Christianity. However, the centre of Islam
never changed: it remained in Arabia.
knew that the development of Islam would happen in Arabia in tribal traditions,
while Christianity’s later development would happen in Europe amid scientific
traditions. Thus, God advised Muslims to follow the pattern of the Christians,
because He knew that the Christians would be scientific in their method.
According to me, God had known that the Muslim mindset would be based on and
influenced by their centre, while the Christian mindset would be based
depending on the place which became the centre for their faith. God knew
beforehand that Europe would become the centre of scientific discoveries. On
the other hand, the centre of Islam was in Arabia, a place which was in the midst
of tribal age in the seventh century, and, more or less, still continues to be
so. On the other hand, the change of geographical centre for Christianity
changed the mindset of the Christians in that they developed scientific
thinking. This change in mindset along scientific lines could not be brought
about among Muslims, however.
science, I mean the exact sciences. The study of science brings in realistic
thinking. God knew that the best pattern, in terms of methodology, would be
developed by the Christians, owing to the scientific education and awareness
among them, which began after the Renaissance.
Christians flourished in an environment different from that of the Arabs, who
developed in the tribal traditions of Arabia. As a result, scientific thinking
could not be fostered in Muslims as it did among the Christians. The
above-quoted Quranic verse tells Muslims to adopt the pattern of Christians. In
this sense, the verse advises Muslims to make Christians their partners in
order to learn from them. On the other hand, if you make someone your rival,
you will not be able to learn from him or her. But that is what the Muslims
will give some examples to illustrate my point.
First, the Crusades occurred between the
Muslims and the Christians, in which the latter suffered a humiliating defeat.
The Christians then made plans of what they should do, and decided to choose a
second option. Life is about choosing a second option when the first option
does not work. The Crusades led to the Christians’ defeat, which made them opt
for the second option—of leaving the battlefield and choosing to study and
investigate into nature. As a result of this endeavour, which was initiated
mainly after the Crusades, modern civilization came into existence.
this way, although the Christians had lost the Crusades, in retrospect they
emerged as winners, in that they built a whole new civilization. The Crusades’
defeat was not the end for Christians.
teaches us the lessons that if one field of work closes down, there still are
many more options left to explore. The example set by Christians was that if
the first option does not work; take the second option instead of sticking to
the first option if it yields no results.
Consider another example in this regard.
Germany and Japan incurred losses in the Second World War. Later, they
abandoned the violent course they had adopted and devoted themselves to
scientific education and developing their nations along modern lines. Hence,
they are today developed nations and have gained far more than what they had
lost in the War.
the model given by Christians to Muslims is: come to the field of peace from
the field of war. If the first option does not work, take the second option.
Muslims, however, have not been able to take this second option and are still
continuing with their violence. They must learn from the Christians.
Another example set by Christians is in the
context of colonialism. Whereas Muslims derived pride from their empires,
Christians took it as an opportunity. When they spread out in the world, they
organized their missionary activities on a grand scale. Muslims did not perform
work for their mission in such organized manner. The Christians availed of the
peace that resulted during the age of colonialism and began expeditiously
organizing their missionary activity. In this pattern, the lesson to be learnt
by Muslims is one of organized Dawah (‘calling people to God’). Organized Dawah
work of the kind done by Christians is still absent among Muslims.
was aware that a time would come when Muslims would engage in futile violence
while Christians would engage in organized missionary activity. Thus, in verse
61:14 of the Quran, when God says that Muslims should follow the example of the
Christians, it means that Muslims should adopt the pattern of mission adopted
by the Christians.
third example established by Christians is, I believe, not known elsewhere in
the entire history of humankind. I call this ‘Vaticanisation’. There was a time
when the Pope was the uncrowned king of Europe. The Pope’s blessings were
sought by kings for establishing their legitimacy. But a time came when it was
not possible to continue with this immense power wielded by the Pope. So,
Christians became ready for ‘Vaticanisation’: that is, they decided that the
Pope should remain in a small area, the Vatican, and that instead of having
sway over an entire political empire spanning several countries of Europe; the
Pope should make a spiritual kingdom in the area assigned to him.
Muslims did not accept such a proposal for the
Caliph. Ataturk gave the Muslim Caliph the offer of relinquishing political
control over the Ottoman Empire and having a small place for himself, just as
the Pope had the Vatican. But Muslims were not ready to accept that the Caliph
should retire to a small corner. Because of the Muslims’ refusal to accept this
offer, the Caliphate was itself abolished. Thus the title of the ‘Caliph’ was
lost forever. Had Muslims agreed to a Vatican for their Caliph, they would have
retained the title of Caliph just as the Christians could retain the title of
Pope. It is the title that has importance and not the geographical location or
a piece of land. The titles of ‘Pope’ and ‘Caliph’ have a whole history behind
them. Thus these titles alone hold a lot of importance.
the twenty-first century, for the first time in history, a United Nations
covering the entire world has been formed, which has accorded religious freedom
as an undeniable right of every human being. In today’s age, all opportunities
of various kinds have been opened up for all. But because Muslims have made
Christians their rivals, they could not develop the thinking required to use
these opportunities in the present age of peace.
Thanks for those insightful comments on Christian-Muslim Relations. Moving to a
discussion on Quranic hermeneutics, let me ask you, what methodology do you use
to interpret the Quran in the context of modernity, democracy and secularism?
I follow the principle of Ijtihad. It means to reapply the teachings of Islam
to a new situation. We have an example of this in the life of the Prophet.
Once, the Prophet sent a group of his Companions to the tribe of Banu Qurayzah.
Before sending them off, he advised them: “Do not offer the Asr prayer until
you have reached Banu Qurayzah.”(SahihBukhari, Hadith no. 946) Asr is the
afternoon daily prayer, the time for which ends at the beginning of sunset. The
group of Companions had not yet reached Banu Qurayzah when the sun began to
set. Some of the Companions said that they should offer prayer as the time for
Asr prayer would end by the time they would reach Banu Qurayzah. Certain other
Companions said that they would strictly follow the Prophet’s advice and would
not pray until they reached the Banu Qurayzah. The former group of Companions
explained to the latter that the Prophet’s words should not be taken literally,
as he had actually required them to travel fast so that they could reach the
destination before the time of the Asr prayer ended. The Prophet did not mean
that they should offer the Asr prayer after having reached the destination,
come what may.
incident is an example of doing ijtihad, or reapplying a teaching of Islam in a
Similarly, the Quran says, “Call mankind to
the Pilgrimage. They will come to you, on foot, and on every kind of lean
camel.” (22:27)Thisverse calls on all Muslims to perform the pilgrimage to
Makkah on camelback. In today’s times, this command cannot be followed
literally, and is taken to mean: ‘Use the available means of transportation for
There was a Companion of the Prophet,
MuadhibnJabal, whom the Prophet sent as an administrator in a city. Before
sending him to carry out his responsibilities, the Prophet asked him how he
would decide on matters. He replied that he would consult the Quran. The
Prophet asked him what he would do if he did not find an answer in the Quran.
Muadh replied that he would look for a solution in the Prophet’s Sunnah, or
practice. When the Prophet asked what if he did not find an example there, he
replied: Ijtahaddurayi (Sunan Abu Dawud, Hadith no. 3592). It means: “I will
decide on the basis of my own opinion.”
Thus, in a changing situation, one should try
to understand and find out the position of the Quran relevant to that new
situation. Ijtihad means to discover the application of the Quran to a new
VE: How relevant
are the terms Dar ul-Islam, Dar ul-Kufr and Darul-Harb in today’s world where
people of all faith live together?
These terms are innovations. They were not used at the time of the Prophet. For
example, in the early period of Islam, Makkah had not entered the fold of
Islam, but the Prophet never referred to it as Dar ul-Kufr, or ‘Abode of
Disbelief’. Similarly, the Prophet never called Madinah Dar ul-Islam(‘Abode of
Islam’) or ‘Islami Jamhuriya Madinah’ (The Islamic Republic of Madinah). This
terminology was developed much later, after the death of the Prophet.
Apostasy is punishable by death in some Muslim countries. Is not religion a
Apostasy is completely permissible. A person has the freedom to make the choice
of leaving Islam. Religious belief is one’s personal choice. For example,
during the early period of Islam, some Muslims migrated to Ethiopia. Among them
was a Muslim, Ubaydullah ibn Jahsh, who left Islam and became a Christian. When
the Prophet came to know, he did not direct his Companions to kill Ubaydullah
for his having abandoned the religion of Islam.
Religion is a person’s personal choice. One
can follow the religion one likes. One who chooses another religion does not
call his case one of ‘apostasy’. Rather, he considers it a case of making
another choice in the matter of religion. There is no verse in the Quran which says
that apostasy is a crime punishable by death. All the Muslim books on apostasy
which hold that an apostate should be awarded the death punishment
(Yuqtaluhaddan) are, in my opinion, wrong. The jurisprudence or Fiqh compiled
in the later period of Muslim history developed the idea of punishing apostasy
with death. But I give precedence to the Quran and Hadith over Fiqh.
verse in the Quran (2:217) tells us that the case of one who leaves Islam for
another religion is in God’s hands. Apostasy is not a humanly punishable crime:
it is upon God to deal with the person who changes his religion.
VE: What is your
opinion on democracy with reference to the Quran?
MWK: Those Muslims
who speak against democracy have not understood it properly. The origin of democracy
can be found in the Quran. The Quran uses the word Shura, which means mutual
consultation (42:38). Present-day democracy is an organized form of the
democracy mentioned in the Quran. I believe that when you establish a political
system in a collectivity, you will have to decide by the consensus of the
Government is a name for the administration of
the affairs of a collectivity. In Islam, the purpose of a political system is
only administration. Political system is not part of the belief system of
religion. That is, those people who are selected by the consultation of members
of the society will run the administration.
VE: How do Muslims
understand Shariah? Is it divine or practical law?
Many Muslims regard the Shariah as all the rules of Fiqh and consider these as
eternal and sacred. However, this is not correct. There is a principle in Fiqh
which says: Tataghayyur Al-Ahkambi Tataghayyur al-Zamanwal-Makan.
(Tayseer Ilm-eUsul al-Fiqh, Abdullah bin Yusuf al-Anzi, Beirut, 1997, p.214)
This means that commands change with the change of time and place. Many fiqh
rules depend upon the situation and can change according to the times. It is
important to note that there is a difference between belief and Fiqh rules.
Belief is sacred, but the same cannot be said of the entire gamut of Fiqh
rules. Many social laws are not sacred. Rather, they can be decided according
to the situation.
VE: What is your
understanding of the mission of Islam?
I believe that mission work is part of religious freedom. According to me,
debate is unlawful in Islam. Instead of debating, people should engage in
scientific discussion with each other. Unfortunately, many Muslims think they
have the right to do mission work while others do not. But I think that all
religious communities have the right to do peaceful missionary work. Even if
you preach that there is no God, you are allowed to do so if you remain
peaceful. That is, your method should not increase intolerance for and hatred
Muslims give an incorrect reference to prove
that the Bible should not be used in Quranic exegesis. They cite an incident
from the time of the Prophet, when his Companion Umar ibn al-Khattab had
certain pages of the Bible which the Prophet discouraged him from collecting.
(Musnad Ahmad, Hadith no. 15156) This was because the Quran had not been
compiled then and there was a possibility of mixing of the pages of the Quran
and the Bible. Thus, what the Prophet advised Umar is applicable only to the
time when the Quran was being revealed and had not been collected, compiled and
preserved. But now since the Quran is completely preserved, the Bible can be
read and referred to. At the time of the revelation of the Quran, the Prophet
had asked his Companions to not collect and write down his sayings. This, too,
was for the same reason that he did not want verses of the Quran to be mixed
with his own words; if this had happened, it would have later created
VE: How do you
interpret verses of war in the Quran?
These verses are applicable only to wartime. Some special commandments are
given at wartime and are not applicable in a peaceful situation. All Islamic
scholars have a consensus that even in a genuine war, killing non-combatants is
unlawful. Now, since we are living in an age of weapons of mass destruction, in
which both combatants and non-combatants are inevitably killed, war has become
a matter of the past. In such a situation, according to the consensus of
scholars, there can be no war in Islam, because whenever you engage in war, you
will inadvertently kill non-combatants, too.
There are many verses of the Quran which
cannot be followed today, for example travelling on camels to go for Hajj.
Thus, such verses which are not followed are practically abrogated. I think it
is better to say that they are not applicable or relevant to the present times.
These verses shall continue to be recited, but will not be practically
applicable. These verses are Mansukhul-Hukm, and not Mansukhut-Tilawah,
that is, abrogated with regard to application, but not abrogated with regard to
There are already certain verses which have
been practically abrogated, and this abrogation is accepted among scholars.
Islam, there is a condition for war. That is, if you are in a position to yield
a positive result, then you can engage in war, otherwise not. For example, the
Prophet did not fight during the period when he was in Makkah, where he
consistently adhered to patience. When he was urged on by his Companion Umar
ibn al-Khattab to initiate war in response to the atrocities of the Makkans, he
said: “O Umar, we are few in number.” (Al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah, Ibn Kathir, vol.
3, p. 42) This meant that fighting when the Muslims were in a weaker position
would have led to a counterproductive result.
Islam, there is no concept of fighting and laying down one’s life. Rather, you
should remain alive and do constructive work.
According to a tradition of the Prophet: “A
time will come when you will advance to a place where there will be a fort with
closed doors. You will not use swords or lances. Rather you will just say La
ilahaillallah and the doors will be opened up.”(Sahih Muslim, hadith no. 2920)
This means that the age of war will come to an end and the world will reach an
age of peace, in which it would be one’s ideology or argument that would hold
the upper hand.
How has your understanding of the Quran changed over time?
When I was born in the first half of the twentieth century, there used to be a
lot of discussion about gaining freedom and razing down enemies. So, I had to
rediscover Islam. I asked myself the question: Is Islam all about violence and
defeating enemies? I studied Islam deeply, after which I have come to my
present position. In my time, everybody used to say that fighting is the
greatest thing, but after study I realized that the peaceful study of Islam is
ideology overtime has remained the same, only my organizational associations
have changed. My earliest book was Quran ka Matlub Insan (The Man the Quran
Builds). This has the same thoughts which I have today.
basic reason why I left the organization I was earlier part of is because they
adhered to a traditional understanding of Islam, while I was searching for an
Islam that is relevant to the modern age.
Victor Edwin SJ is Lecturer - Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations
(Vidyajyoti College of Theology), Director - VIDIS (Vidyajyoti Institute of
Islamic Studies) and Secretary - CMRSA (Christian-Muslim Relations South Asia)
Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism
Maulana appears to be a true scholar, as he was able to change his opinion on
major religious truth during the course of his life. It is unbelievable that he
admonishes Muslims, many times, to follow the patterns of Christians or learn
from them. He says The Caliph should be humble like the Pope who accepted (110
acre) Vatican. (Hope Caliph al Baghdadi will not read this interview).
Maulana quotes Koran 61:14 where Allah says Muslims to follow the example
of Christians, who are the ‘God’s helpers’. He is correct. Rick Warren in his
book ‘Purpose driven life’ says. “Don’t ask God what He will do to implement
your plan, but ask yourself what you can do to implement God’s plan” .Because God
is eternal and our life withers in a short time, so we have to help implement
God’s plan. We should love God with all our heart and love all human beings and
repent for our sins. Heaven is ruled by love. We cannot enter heaven with evil
thoughts, -murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, lying
and slander. In fact, even with one ounce of sin we cannot meet God face to
face because He is so pure and so holy.
Although Maulana says Christians built a whole new civilization, yet,
believe it or not, Christian civilisation springs from the fact that the
Messiah (or Son of God) shed his blood and died on the cross for every one of
us. Thus a human life is so precious in front of God. When we treat every human
life preciously, all human and scientific advancement occurs, whether it is
antibiotics, CT, MRI scans, or abolition of death penalty, eight hour work, Red
Cross, nursing industry initiated by Nightingale, building hospitals, schools.
Colleges, Universities, orphanages, home for the aged, etc. etc.
The Maulana says: “There are many verses of the Quran
which cannot be followed today, for example travelling on camels to go for
Hajj. These verses are Mansukhul-Hukm, that is, abrogated with regard to application”
Why would the Quran ordain travelling on
Camels to go for Hajj? Did not people in the Prophet’s time itself travel on
the backs of mules and horses also and those living nearby just walked? Is it a
verse that contains a command? Is there any Muslim past or present who believed
that the Quran contains a command that people travel on Camel for Haj? If
anyone had believed so, surely they would have travelled at least the last mile
Now let us take a look at the relevant
(22:26) Behold! We gave the site, to
Abraham, of the (Sacred) House, (saying): "Associate not anything (in
worship) with Me; and sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or
stand up, or bow, or prostrate themselves (therein in prayer).
(22:27) "And proclaim the
Pilgrimage among men: they will come to thee on foot and (mounted) on every
kind of camel, lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain
The addressee of the verse is Abraham
(pbuh) and people could have come to him through deep and distant lands on
camels only in those days. Those who lived nearby, would have come on foot or
mules or horses. There is no command or hukm in this verse.
There is no verse of the Quran that is
abrogated. The application of many verses is however situation dependent. For
example, verses relating to war are obviously not applicable in times of peace,
the verses regarding divorce are not applicable to the unmarried etc.
Regarding the withholding of the permission to fight while the Prophet was in Mecca, the Muslims would never have been permitted even if they had been strong and in a position to win. Such a fight would have been a civil war and Islam does not permit a civil war. A few Muslims remained behind in Mecca after the Prophet (pbuh) migrated to Medina. The verses regarding fighting were inapplicable to these people and only applicable to those who were with the Prophet. The Quran does not permit insurgency either.