widely recognized that, on the topic of violence, the Qur'an speaks with more
than one voice. Some verses speak for peace and others for war. The
conventional explanation is that the difference hinges on the migration of the
early Muslim community from Mecca to Medina: in Mecca Muslims were persecuted
while Muhammad and the Qur'an preached non-violence and tolerance, but in Medina
an Islamic state was established, and Muhammad gathered an army, leading it to
triumph in battle against non-believers.
conventional explanation for the peace-to-violence shift isn't supported by
conventional Islamic theological interpretation is that in Mecca Muhammad and
his community were weak, vulnerable and persecuted, so Allah wisely commended
patience and forbearance. However, when their power was established in Medina
the Muslims were commanded to fight for the cause of Allah, ushering in the
triumphant advance of the religion.
indisputable that there is a progression from peace to violence in the Qur'an.
But is the conventional explanation for that shift supported by the text of the
Qur'an itself? Does this explanation make the best sense of the Qur'an?
Different Story to be Told
recently published book, The Qur'an and its Biblical Reflexes, I argue that the
traditional explanation is based on a misreading. Setting aside the whole
Mecca-Medina narrative (for a whole host of reasons), I argue that if we read
the Qur'an with an ear for changes in its theology around the transition
between the (so-called) "Meccan" and "Medinan" verses, a
different story emerges. This is a story about a crisis of faith and how it was
To understand what was happening when the
message of the Qur'an changed, we need to focus on the message itself. The
earlier chapters of the Qur'an warn hearers that if they do not repent, they
will be punished in this life and the next. Not only does the fire of hell
await them, but in this life a "nearer punishment" will come down on
their heads in the form of a destructive act of God. Many stories are reported
in the earlier passages of the Qur'an which tell how Allah destroyed past
generations of people who ignored warnings brought by messengers, by violent
interventions such as flood, earthquake, windstorm or fire from heaven.
these dire warnings, the Qur'an also promises success in this life and the next
to those who repent and believe.
people receive this doomsday preaching? Not all that well. The disbelievers
began to mock the Qur'anic "Messenger" (named in the Qur'an as
Muhammad, or "praised one"), asking when this great disaster was
going to come. "Bring us what you promised"(Sura 7:70), they would
say, complaining that it was all taking far too long. The Qur'an wryly comments
that "they seek to hurry the evil" (Sura 13:6), but what they were
really saying was that the Messenger had made it all up. The disbelievers also
mocked the Messenger in many other ways, which is reported in surprising detail
in the Qur'an (e.g. Sura 37:36).
the believers taking this? The Qur'an reports that the Messenger and his band
of followers were getting anxious. Responding to this anxiety, the Qur'an
counsels patience and emphasizes that the Messenger is only a warner, so he is
responsible for nothing but the clear delivery of the message (Sura 29:18). The
timing belongs to Allah.
For a while
things are not looking good for the Qur'anic believers. In addition to the
mockery, they are being ill-treated, and some are even being expelled from
their homes. There are references to the Messenger suffering distress and doubt
(e.g. Sura 10: 46, 65; 11:17), although he is comforted with the thought that
past messengers had also suffered from feelings of hopelessness (Sura 12:110).
Some believers are tempted to turn away (Sura 21:109, 16:82) and some are
giving in to that temptation (Sura 13:25). The success they had all been
promised seems as elusive as the punishment of disbelievers is delayed.
prophet's authority begins to ebb when everything keeps continuing on as
fundamentally a crisis of faith, a theological crisis. In The Qur'an and its
Biblical Reflexes I call it an Eschatological Crisis. The very existence of the
movement of believers was coming under threat. Waiting for God's "nearer
punishment" could only go on for so long. When everything keeps continuing
on as normal, a doomsday prophet's authority begins to ebb away.
is resolved in a way which the preceding revelations have not anticipated. It
is announced to the believers that the promised and long-awaited act of
punishment had arrived in the form of violence by human hands: "fight
them, and Allah will punish them by your hands" (Sura 9:14). It is not to
be by earthquake or fire from heaven, but by the swords of the believers that
God's hand would bring the nearer punishment. Referring to a battle, as if to
reassure believers, Allah tells them that it was not they, but Allah who
killed, and they did not throw spears, but Allah threw them (Sura 8:17).
punishment was not to be by earthquake or fire, but by the swords of the
this violence, the Qur'an also uses language which previously had characterized
acts of God and the fire of Hell: it is called a "painful punishment"
and a "tasting" (i.e. of what will come to them in the Fire). The
pattern of Allah punishing past generations by earthquake, flood, storm or fire
had previously been described as the unchanging "path of Allāh;"
after the crisis, the believer's fighting comes to be described as striving
(jihād) in "the path of Allah."
I term the
shift in thought which resolves the crisis, the Theological Transition, so the
division in the Qur'an is not between Meccan and Medinan Suras, but between
pre- and post-transitional Suras.
and his followers became active agents of divine retribution in the present.
embracing violence, the Messenger and his followers move on from passively
waiting for a future divine punishment, to become active agents of divine
retribution in the present. In essence, the switch from peace to war is not
about defensive fighting, nor even a reaction to persecution. It is a
validation of the Messenger's doomsday message, which saves the Qur'anic
movement and its Messenger from sectarian oblivion.
explanation for the turn to violence makes a whole lot better sense of the
actual text of the Qur'an than the conventional account. In The Qur'an and its
Biblical Reflexes I document in great detail the many theological and
rhetorical adjustments which the Qur'an's makes to support and validate this
shift. For example, after the turn to violence we find that the Qur'an no
longer reports that disbelievers are calling for divine punishment to be
"hurried" (since it had already arrived).
of the Transition
One of the
most striking adjustments after the Theological Transition is a change in the understanding
of the role of messengers. Before the Transition, it had been repeatedly
emphasized that past messengers were just "warners," whose only task
was to deliver the message. However, after the Transition, messengers become
the leaders of the fighting faithful ('how many a prophet has fought, and with
him many thousands' Sura 3:146), and stories of past messengers are fashioned
to reflect this new reality.
also takes place in the position and status of the Qur'anic Messenger, as he is
now one who must be obeyed rather than just one whose message is to be
believed. It is retrospectively asserted that this was always true of all
previous messengers ("we have only sent messengers to be obeyed"
Q4:64). In this way the messenger acquires what E. A. Rezvan has called
"all-embracing personal power." We can also note that these changes
are problematic for the internal consistency of the Qur'an's theology. Although
before the Transition the Qur'an had repeatedly asserted that there can never
be a change in the 'path of Allah' (Sura 33:62; 35:43; 48:23), after the
Transition there was a highly significant, indeed world-altering, change.
is not an easy book to read for understanding. Its Suras (chapters) are not in
any logical or chronological order and within individual Suras a wide variety
of themes and ideas can be covered, in a flowing stream of thoughts which are
not organized into an obvious rhetorical structure. It can be very easy to miss
things. This also means that readers tend to be very dependent, when reading
the Qur'an for understanding, on the standard narrative frame provided by the
life of Muhammad. People see what their eye is directed to, and the
conventional biographical frame tends to direct readers' attention away from
the inner theological development of the text, including the Eschatological
Crisis. The biography of Muhammad directs us to read the Qur'an in the light of
the fledgling Muslim community's struggle for power in the face of rejection
and hostility. In this way, the conventional biographical frame pushes the
theological frame of the Qur'an to one side, obscuring it from view.
Qur'an's 'inner' theological history is not that of a persecuted community
triumphing through migration and state-formation.
I came to
the understanding outlined here as the result of a deliberate decision to make
sense of the Qur'an in its own terms, without ANY reliance upon the biography
of Muhammad (with which I was nevertheless very familiar). After coming to the
conclusions reported here, I did however find my analysis confirmed in an
excellent book by David Marshall, God, Muhammad, and the Unbelievers. Key
aspects of what I was seeing Marshall had already discerned, and I give him a
lot of credit in my book.
Qur'an's text reveals a movement faltering under the weight of the non-arrival
of a prophesied doomsday scenario.
the "inner" theological history told by the Qur'an itself is not that
of a persecuted community which found triumph through migration and state-formation,
from where it took up arms against its persecutors. That may be the story told
by biographical materials about Muhammad gathered together centuries after the
Qur'an was written, but it is not the story the Qur'an tells.
there is persecution and triumph in the Qur'an, a more careful reading of the
Qur'an's text reveals a movement which was faltering under the weight of the
non-arrival of a prophesied doomsday scenario. This movement was then saved –
and transformed – by a shocking and epoch-making announcement that the swords
of believers were to be considered an act of God. The rest, as they say, is
Mark Durie is an academic, human rights activist,
Anglican pastor, a Shillman-Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum,
and Adjunct Research Fellow of the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam
at Melbourne School of Theology.
Source: Middle East Forum
author’s approach to judge conventional explanation of the Quran is itself based
on a part of conventional materials. In order to reject some part of conventional
explanation, he has applied another part of it but for a different purpose,
that is, to indirectly consider that all mainstream Muslims’ approach was at
nothing new in this article except for being dependent on speculation so as to
term entirety of the conventional explanation a result of ‘misreading’.
Makki and Madani verses, there are, though, huge differences among scholars who
played their sincere role in doing what they thought to be acceptable to God,
the most authentic one which gathered majority of Muslims on mainstream
platform in every century is taken to be akin to definite argument.
this much is not enough for deducing any ruling, as a jurist has to take into
consideration all verses related to a ruling so as to reach the understanding
of the Divine texts.
The Prophetic Mission is divided into four distinct phases and could have ended with phase 1, phase 2, or phase 3. That it completed all four phases is incidental. There is no contradiction between what is revealed in any of the four phases with what is revealed in other phases.
The Message is a seamless continuum as is evident from the following articles:
The Story of the Prophetic mission of Muhammad (pbuh)
from the Qu’ran (part 1): The early opposition
(Part 2): The Clear Warning to the Meccan Pagans
(Part 3): Important Pointers from the Stories of the Prophets
(Part 4): The Medinian Period
(Concluding Part) Summary
(Part 6): The People of the Book and
The Quran is a Book of revelations and not a book of theology or any other _logy.
How Islamic Scholars Distort
the Message of the Qur’an Misled By the Previous Scriptures