How to Be Sceptical About the Quran – A Response to Dr Ali Rizvi

In Dr Rizvi’s style, let me first start with what I’m not going to do:

I am not going yell out ‘kaaaaafir!’ (infidel!) and issue a fatwa against him using the Quran. I believe in total freedom of religion and I highly value opinions by Ex-Muslims and Atheist Muslims. It is their dissenting opinions which can keep the Ummah balanced.

I am not going to accuse him of having an ‘atheist’s agenda’ to undermine and destroy Islam from within. His faith or lack thereof is his own business and he has a right, as a rational human being to critically look at the Quran without being accused of this.

I am not going to even blame him for thinking of his proposed solution. I’ve met believing Liberal Muslims who practise relativist readings and have effectively removed the ‘offensive’ or ‘difficult’ bits of the Quran from the practical sphere.

What I am going to do is to appeal to Dr Rizvi’s sense of reason. By all means, be sceptical but I would like to ask him to extend his scepticism to be across the board in the field of Islamic literature. I do not need him to believe the Quran is infallible at all, merely to understand that the Author of the Quran is being silenced wherever He should be allowed to speak. In the vacuum of this silence, other voices are being projected speaking on behalf of this Author. I noticed the same pattern of thought in the Fathima Imra Nazeer’s article. They are critical towards the Quran but accepting as any believing Muslim towards any extra-Quranic literature about the Quran, namely hadith, tafseer and maghazi literature. I find this selectivity to be inexplicable. If you are true sceptic or even non-believer, please be sceptical fairly. Why be sceptical about the Quran yet accepting of whatever is spoken of the Quran from a later period?

Allow me first to introduce my position – I am in the field of Islamic Studies (MA in Islamic Studies from University of London, PhD candidate in Islam and Postmodernity from King’s College, London). I am also a Quranist Muslim. What this means is that I believe the Quran to be sole source of my faith. No interpretation of the Quran is binding on me except my own. I mentioned my academic background because this is what helped to strengthen my conviction. Why should I believe that Islamic literature is actually pro-islam? I will substantiate my dissociation below:

Lets take the most obvious example. This example is perhaps the biggest proof for me to make my case and I have used it for over fifteen years against Islamofascists (Muslims who use the Islamic tradition to produce a system of oppression). They believe that if one leaves Islam (which includes becoming a Shi’ite or Quranist) and remains committed to that apostasy, that person must be killed. Yet, we find that the Quran is for the unconditional freedom of belief. It tells us that there is no compulsion in religion (Chapter 2, Verse 256). Muhammad was told not to act as a compeller but one who reminds (50/45). He was actually chided for daring to think he could make people belief and told that people can only come to belief with reason (10/99-100). There are even instances of oscillation between faith and disbelief with no command to criminalise such individuals (4/136).

My point in highlighting the above difference is to show even in a fundamental issue – that of the freedom of belief – the Quran is not only differing with Conservative Traditional Islam (which contains the substantiation for such Islamofascist beliefs), it is antithetical to it. How then can we accept Conservative Traditional literature about the Quran without any scepticism?

This brings me to my next point. How did Islamofascism deal with Quranic injunctions which went against its imperialist agenda (Iike the ones I quoted above)? Quite simply, by cancelling out these injunctions. So in effect, they are accepting Dr Rizvi’s own suggestion in practice if not in principle. This policy is called ‘naskh’ (or abrogation) and Conservative Traditional Muslims claim that it is sanctioned by Prophet Muhammad. The problem is, there are literally dozens of opinions on how many verses abrogate and are abrogated. Jihadists even believe that the verse of the sword (9/29 of the Quran which has no such word) abrogates a hundred other ‘peaceful verses’. Why is this claim necessary if those parts of the Quran was on the Jihadists’ side?

In order to understand these verses about conflict, we must understand what the Quran means by believer and non-believer. The concept of belief (imaan) and its opposite, disbelief (literally ‘concealment’ or kufr) is not one of a religious nature. What I mean by this is, the Quran does not enumerate a set of dogmatic beliefs in which one must profess or be damned. Rather one experiences signs in one’s life (ayaat in Quranic terms) which one responds to. It is a very personal experience. The ‘non-believer’ who is mentioned in these ‘fighting’ contexts is one who conceals peace (which is always mentioned in such contexts), not any person who disbelieves in Islam. That would be a tribal interpretation of the Quran which I believe the Quran most definitely resists. The Quran does not teach a religion called ‘Islam’, rather it teaches a universal principle of peace (‘islam’ literally means ‘acquirement of peace’). An easy way to verify this is to see a comparative translation of Chapter 3 Verse 19 which says ‘verily the religion in the sight of Allah is al-islam’. One must ask why is the word ‘al-islam’ the only word left untranslated? If islam is a literal proper name, then why does the Pharoah of Egypt also use it (10/90) when he didn’t speak Arabic? ‘islam’ is not a Tribal name at all, as Islamofascists would have us believe.

Ironically, after all this disagreement, I do agree with Dr Rizvi on one point – that Islam needs reform. Deep, deep reform. Islam currently has an endemic system of oppression within in its tradition which is possibly the most comprehensive in the world – Islamofascism. Islamofascism seeks to subjugate and suppress women, gender and sexual minorities, religious minorities and even Islamic minorities (Shi’ites, Quranists, Ahmedis) themselves. But do they rely on the Quran for that? No. What they do is quote half verses and append pages and pages of ‘authentic explanations’ to make their case.

I will end with my proof of how callously the Quran is used. Michael Adebolajo, murderer of Lee Rigby came on the news stating that ‘Surah At-Tauba’ tells him that it is ‘an eye for an eye’ (I wrote about it last year here) . Dr Rizvi even repeated this in his article and told us to go and see it ourselves. I wonder if he did so himself. Because Adebolajo got it wrong – it’s not in Sura At-Tauba. It is in Sura Al-Maa’ida. And Traditionalists would say it’s a quote of the Torah (5/44-45). Can we now say the Quran is being treated unfairly, Dr Rizvi?

The Ironic Martyrdom of Alan Henning

While Muslims were celebrating the festival of Eid Al-Adh yesterday, a dark cloud loomed over us. Alan Henning, a taxi driver from Salford who had been helping to deliver aid in Syria, was beheaded by ‘Islamic State’ (IS) militants. The imam who delivered the sermon at the Eid service I attended said that it was Mr Henning who achieved martyrdom. I felt this sentiment resonate deeply with me simply out of intuition but I did not know why. Upon checking the Quranic verses later, I feel sure that it is indeed true – it was Alan Henning and not the hundreds of naive young men and women who have given their lives for IS who achieved martyrdom. For them. they were simply wasted deaths. And worse still, wasted lives.

Martyrdom is a very emotive concept for Muslims. Historically speaking, when Prophet Muhammad first preached his message in Makkah, the people who accepted his call were persecuted quite aggressively. Some of these people were murdered while stubbornly clinging to the belief that God is one. This is also true in the Medinan period thirteen years later, when Muslims had to defend their lives against the way by the Meccans. Hence, martyrdom has an existential connection to the Muslim psyche. It is a noble to dying for the sake of God akin to how the British see our heroes of the Great War. One hundred years later, we are still remembering their noble sacrifices. After all, we would not be here if it weren’t for them.

The Quran is even more explicit on the idea of martyrdom. It connects the idea with the phrase ‘in the path of Allah’ (fee sabil Allah) and insists such people are alive(Chapter 2 Verse 154). Perhaps they are and forever will be, in our hearts and minds at least. The phrase ‘in the path of Allah’ is explained further in the same chapter by connecting it as spending for charity and betterment of the needy (2/261, 262 and 273). Perhaps the most powerful connection here is the onebetween this phrase and the creation of a safe, inviolable space (2/217, 218). Alan Henning nicely fits these descriptions.

Compare that with the actions of the IS militants so far. I attended a meeting some months ago organised by the Iraqi people (including Sunnis themselves so we cannot call the IS a ‘Sunni group’). The actions which the IS are guilty of are unimaginable. IS is literally the most extreme form of Islamofascism we have ever seen. They are so far removed from the values of the Quran that even those who would normally make excuses for Islamofascists draw the line with them.

So why are sections of Muslim youth attracted to the call of IS? I believe it is due to the romanticism to which IS is linked. These Muslim youth, judging from their recruitment videos, consider themselves to be seekers of martyrdom, evoking the very same sentiment I mentioned above about the early martyrs of Islam. Unfortunately, the only thing they have in common with Prophet Muhammad and his companions is the use of the word ‘shaheed’ (literally one who bears witness and used to imply martyrs had born witness to God). It is akin to their very name ‘Islamic State’. They are about as Islamic as worshipping two gods.

No, it is Alan Henning who is the true martyr. By all accounts, he left his comfortable life behind and travelled to Syria for humanitarian reasons. Ultimately, he paid the price for this noble act with his life. This is the true sacrifice which begets martyrdom, in my understanding of the Quran. Whatever Mr Henning’s beliefs were, the very fact of his commitment shows his convictions were unshakeable. He is a martyr and will be forever remembered, alive in our memories.

What The Paedophile Hunter Can Teach Muslims

I caught this very interesting program on Channel 4 last night (and you can watch it on 4od), ‘The Paedophile Hunter’. It was about exactly that – this chap called Stinson Hunter who called who spends a great deal of time and energy (and money, I reckon) to catch online paedophiles. He creates fake profiles of underaged girls on social media sites and baits paedophiles into messaging, talking obscenely, sharing their pictures and videos and finally even showing up at his doorstep. Then he and his mates film the offender before handing the information over to the police. Absolutely awesome, I say.

Of course there were policemen who weren’t too happy about Stinson and his activities. However, I think it’s very clear that what he does is not illegal. He is not breaking the law, nor is he taking the law into his own hands. Rather, he eloquently puts it as follows – I give them (the paedos) the rope. It is they choose to hang themselves. Precisely.

My question is this – grooming gangs comprising Muslims were plaguing the UK for decades (and maybe still are, who knows?). So why did not see Saifullah Hunter (the Muslim version of Stinson Hunter) emerge to trap Muslim paedophiles? While there were some angry Muslim voices, we hardly saw any kind of protest at loudness level of say, the Rushdie demonstrations. When Rushdie published Satanic verses twenty-five years ago, Muslims took to the streets and held Satanic Verses bonfires. We certainly saw no demonstrations during the Rotherhm scandal.

Muslims have mixed priorities. When it comes to protecting the image of the Tribe, they would take to the streets and go berserk. When it comes to abusing and oppressing the young and vulnerable, it had to be exposed on a national scale before Muslims started to respond. Forget about being proactive, Muslims are hardly even reactive. We need to take a page from Stinson Hunter’s book.

How can Muslims be proactive in upholding justice? Two social epidemics which I feel demand Muslim attention are the aforementioned paedophile rings and of course, radicalisation. We are now hearing more and more of young British Muslims running off to Syria to fight for the ‘Islamic State’. Apparently, there are already five hundred of them already there. This includes girls whom the ‘Islamic State’ only see fit to be comfort women (says a lot, dunnit).

How can Muslims be like Stinson Hunter? Quite frankly, by keeping their ears to the ground. As part of a religious community, you hear things. Only this perverted sense of honour prevents us from doing so now. Of course, it is incredibly shameful and humiliating if your son, father, brother, uncle or even fellow Muslim is involved in such an evil activity. However, it will be far worse for your faith if you stand by and do nothing while an innocent child is being sexually abused and/or exploited. You will be complicit if you stand by and allow it to happen. Worse still, if you do so for the sake of ‘honour’.

As for radicalisation, Muslims should bait these Jihadis. They are usually found in forums and social media as well. Tell them you want to join them and keep all records of the discussion for your evidence including screenshots.These are very dangerous people so it’s best not to meet them in person. Rather, turn the evidence over to the police. Have no compunction or pity in doing this. These people are destroying Islam more than any Islamophobe ever could.

Also look for the ‘soft jihadis’, people who do not directly promote violence but still stick to the very same laws the so-called ‘Islamic State’ are actually practising like killing apostates. With them, it’d be harder to report to the police so report them to the media. These folks are reason that actual jihadism happens. Wannabe Jihadis listen to them go on about their ancient tribal laws and saying ‘we can’t apply them without an Islamic state’ and eventually go out an establish the state themselves.

Stinson Hunter would not comment if he was abused as a child. Whatever the case, he took it upon himself to help the process of justice along. Ten people has been convicted so far. He took charge of the situation and we can too. We should be proactive in eliminating these poison elements from our society.