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?

Does the Quran Really Promote Jew Hate?

The American Freedom Defence Initiative are now promoting advertisements portraying the Quran as the source of Muslim hatred for Jews. The implication they are putting forward is obvious – if the hatred for Jews is in Islam’s Holy Scripture, then Islam promotes racism toward the Jews.

The Muslims’ problem here is not that Pamela Geller and her cohorts have imputed on the Quran yet again. Ms Geller’s diatribes are usually infantile and not worth the paper on which they are printed. This time however, these Islamophobe racists are not only using the rhetoric by the Islamofascists but also to which the majority of Traditional Muslims subscribe since it in their books. These books of Tradition have strong elements of anti-Jew feelings. Exacerbated by the politics of the day, many Traditional Muslims have turned their hatred of Zionism into an outright racist feeling towards Jews.

Of course the Quran, being the first source of religion for Traditional Muslims, was co-opted in this campaign of Jew hatred. The purpose of this essay is to analyse whether the Quran has a bona fide hatred for the Jews or whether Islamofascists readings have projected this sentiment onto the Quran through Traditional sources. How can the latter happen? Traditional sources claim to represent Prophet Muhammad and his utterances about the Quran and hence it claims to be the ‘official’ interpretation. However, these traditions create vast contradictions with the rest of the Quran when their interpretations are analysed. Hence, we will attempt to move towards a more coherent intratexual reading. In other words, a reading which agrees with the Quran as a whole.

We will also present two different approaches. The first approach will agree in principle that, as the Traditionalists assert, Jew-related terms (alladhina haadoo, al-yahood, ahl al-kitab, bani israil) are in fact so. Even in this analysis, it is impossible to find the Quran promotes Jew hate. The second approach (to which I personally subscribe) rejects Traditionally imposed meanings altogether and prefers a more holistic reading which I will substantiate before going into the analysis proper.

The first approach (If we accept that Traditional understandings of Jew-related terms):

Traditionalists tend to see that terms such as ‘alladhina haadoo’ , ‘al-yahood’ (both translated as Jews), ‘ahlul kitab’ (people of the book, referring to Jews and Christians) and ‘bani israil’ (Children of Israel, a nation of ancient Jews) as obviously referring to Jews. Since this is the most normative opinion, we will consider it for in this first approach.

In Chapter 2 of the Quran itself, there are already three calls to the Children of Israel. In these calls, they are reminded of their covenant (2/40) and given a set of instructions to follow (2/41-46). They are told not once, but twice that they were raised above the nations (2/47 and 122). More than fifty verses are devoted to the recounting of their story and how Allah gave them opportunities for redemption and growth (2/47-103). Furthermore, in the final narrative of this chapter (2/243-252), the nation of Israel during the time of Saul and David are are recounted, highlighting their victory over Goliath and his troops. In the same chapter, Solomon is said to have dominion (mulk as in ‘mulku sulaimaan’ – 2/102). This is the only personality to be phrased in this way.

Moving on to the term ‘alladhina haadoo’ and ‘al-yahood’ (both translated as Jews), there is a balanced narrative regarding positive and negative traits. ‘Alladhina hadoo’ are seen quite positively and said to be given salvation (three times in fact as in 2/62, 5/69 and 22/17). Their problem lies in their imperfect applications (such as 4/46 and 5/41) which resulted in a faith attainment less than the ideal, symbolised by Abraham (the contrast is seen in 3/67). In no way are they said to be hated at all.

In the second form of the word, ‘al-yahood’, we should first note that there is a specificity regarding to term (embodied in the article ‘al’ as in ‘al-yahood which means ‘the jews’ and not ‘Jews’ in general). This refers to a specific set of people and if we accept the Traditional meaning, then it can only refer to a set of Jews ostensibly living at the time of the Prophet. These Jews were said to be stoking the fires of war (5/64) and the worst of enemies to believers (5/82). Yet, in the very same passage, we have the aforementioned ‘alladhina haadoo’ (also translated as Jews) to be one of the peoples promised salvation (5/69). Therefore, the condemnation to the ‘al-yahood’ is very specific and due to behaviour. It is in no way an inherent curse borne by heritage. In Quranic metaphysics, no bearer of sin shall bear the burden of another (35/18).

As for the term ‘People of the Book’, the same case applies. There are members of the People of the Book who earn condemnation for their acts (exemplified in 2/104) but even these are said to be ‘rejectors from the People of the Book’ (alladhina kafaroo min ahl al-kitab). The People of the Book are never condemned outright. There are, in fact, among them who are highly lauded for their devotion to Allah (3/113-115).

From the above analysis, we can clearly see that there is no ‘Jew Hatred’ promoted by the Quran. If we accept that the terms above as related to Jews, then the Quran uses them as a community which is given revelation. This community is elevated in many ways but also some among them were debased for their unacceptable acts. Racism is out of the question and so is even religious tribalism– it is actually about human behaviour to which all of us are susceptible.

In the proceeding part of this essay, we will analyse why the above hypothesis (that the Quran actually talks about the Jews) is untenable given that we read the Quran holistically. In this analysis, I will prove why I believe the terms discussed above actually refer to humanity without any kind of religious tribalism.

Boko Haram Drags The Ummah Through the Mud (Again)!

Boko Haram must be a dream come true for the sharks waiting to devour the Muslims up. Seriously, you can’t ask for a better pantomine villain than Abu Bakar Shekau. The guy has an air of insanity about him. The way he speaks, you can tell he looks like he’s relishing the power given to him by virtue of this evil act. You may be able to see what I mean here.

Some Muslims get rather indignant when I say ‘we need to be proactive to overturn Islamofascism’. They feel that they shouldn’t be associated with such acts. I wholeheartedly agree. I don’t like being associated with such acts either. Sadly, we don’t live in a world of should and should nots. We live in a world of ‘is’ and ‘is nots’ and the sad fact of the matter is this: Boko Haram has made an overt claim to the Islamic identity.

Abu Bakar Shekau has made a few references to Allah, believing Allah told him to do it. In this latest video he claims he’s liberating the girls by giving them Islam. I beg to differ, he’s giving them terror the opposite of peace which islam should bring. This guy has it the wrong way round.

I was especially annoyed today because he made these girls (most of whom are Christians) recite the Quran. This man is so demented that he thinks by making these girls read the Quran in the state of terror he induced on them, that they would be made Muslim? No, I don’t believe so. If I had to guess, I would say this man is on a powertrip. Nothing more. Religious has nothing to do with it at all.

What do we need to do about this? We the Ummah have a lot of work to do to clean the reputation of the Quran and Islam from evil men like these. I highly suggest social action. We need to get together and perform social action. Is this an apology to our fellow human beings? No, we didn’t do anything wrong so we don’t need to apologise. What we do need to do is to liberate Islam and the Quran from the mud which Shekau is dragging through. Social action is what we need to do. And guess what? It’s actually the requirement of the Quran to confirm ad-deen (see Ch 107 of the Quran).

I call this programme Social Salah

HeartFelt Islam: Empathy At The End of Diversity

The post-conference slump is probably the spiritual/religious version of the ‘comedown’ after a chemical high (watch the movie ‘Human Traffic’ to see what I mean). While I’m a firm believer in the principle roughly paraphrased as ‘Action Makes Change’, it is the emotional energy and the psychological impetus which these gatherings generate that drives us to action to begin with. To me they are a form of salah , a connectivity between individuals resulting in an energy spike. A truly beautiful feeling.

For two days, I was charged with this energy. The conference entitled ‘Diversity the Gift of Islam’ organised by the Muslim Institute and Imaan was brilliantly organised and expertly executed. The topics were chosen in such a way that this issue of diversity was attacked from a variety of angles. From Sharia (which should be the fountainhead of our diversity but ironically has become the instrument of Islamofascism) to gender and sexual minority rights to refugees and citizenship to various forms of heterodox Islam and inclusive practices, I really felt the richness of Islam as complex network of human experience. It’s a cultural matrix and what was discussed during the conference was best of that matrix.

However, what really moved me was the reality of what I call ‘HeartFelt Islam’. After one of the panel discussions, I got into a conversion with an auntie, Mrs Khan (not the better half of Citizen Khan, you all know meh). Mrs Khan is the mum of a very good friend of mine. She related to me her background which was Salafee (the most ultra-puritanical form of Traditional Islam). How she felt when family members had certain limiting and counter-productive beliefs (like women are forbidden from driving) but she could not dissuade them. Deep down, she knew these beliefs had no religious bases yet she had no means to engaging with them. It was her children (including my friend) who enabled her to find these channels and now that she has, I sensed relief and peace emanating from her.

This to me, is HeartFelt Islam (HFI). HFI is means for us to know the truth because it exists in a place from which no one can rob us – our hearts. No amount of textual analysis or years spent in Al-Azhar can be equal to the awareness bestowed by HFI. Even study of the Quran will not be whole without the heart to act as a compass. The Quran asks us:

So do they continuously ponder on the Quran – or on their hearts are there locks (47/24).

The heart is also the home of imaan (faith – Quran 49/14) and sakinah (serenity – Quran 48/4) And this is where empathy lies – the heart. We need to go back to this as a source of compassion (rahmah) for all peaceful folks and ‘feel’ our way to islam. Mrs. Khan had helped me sum up the conference – that at the end of diversity lies empathy. We may exist in the infinite human beings but we all co-exist within a singular race of humanity.

To become a fellow of the Muslim Institute, please click here.

To learn more about Imaan, please click here.

Adebolajo Hijacks Allah and Islam

Whenever Michael Adebolajo, one of the Woolwich Terrorists, pops up in the media, he is carefully framed so as to make a prominent link between himself and Islamic terminology. Islamophobes cannot ask for better publicity than this – an actual maniac telling you he is doing it for Allah and Islam and quoting (or rather misquoting) the Quran. Today the mainstream was all over this and I grew tired of listening to my God and faith being dragged through the proverbial mud.

The time for his trial has now come and of course the media circus which follows will rub salt in our wounds. Most Muslims in the UK were deeply appalled by this act of murder last May by these two men. As a Muslim myself, I am especially offended today that Adebolajo claims that he is a ‘soldier of Allah’! Soldier of ALLAH? Really?! If one were to read the Quran in the quest to discern the character or personality of Allah (such as it were), would one find the Allah Adebolajo claims to follow? Absolutely not!

Lets first analyse Adebolajo’s act – he masqueraded as a peaceful citizen of the UK when in fact, by his own admission, he was at war. Where did Allah actually tell him to go do this? Nowhere in Quran does it tell you to pretend to be peaceful in order to infiltrate a community whilst all the while plotting to murder one of its members. If you are a soldier, then you must declare your position as a soldier so as to let the enemy prepare for your acts of war. Adebolajo did nothing of this sort. Instead he used his British passport to travel to certain places to receive training and then return home. This is already unislamic.

Indeed if we were to read Ch 8/9 of the Quran (the chapter which Adebolajo misquoted, by the way) which describes a conflict between the system of justice and oppression, a very clear declaration is given by Allah and the mssenger (9/1-3) towards oppressors. In Traditional readings, there is even a period for the oppressors to gather themselves. 4 months to be precise. Why didn’t Adebolajo heed this pattern of behaviour? This is the proper conduct of war according to the Quran, the very same book Adebolajo (mis)quoted with his face in the camera for the world to see. Quite patently because he is not a soldier of Allah. He is a terrorist who used tactics of deception to reach his goals. He does not represent Allah’s cause but rather he imagines he is representing the cause of Islam. What he is actually contributing to is the cause of Islamofascism which brings us to the next point.

Let us not forget that the first two attributes of Allah, repeated as a formula before each chapter of the Quran is ‘ar-rahmaan’ and ‘ar-raheem’. Both these attributes are etymologically related to the ‘rahm’ or womb in Arabic. Allah is a god of nourishment and sustenance and protection – not one of cold-blooded murder.

Adebolajo’s case becomes more damning, he now admits Al-Qaeda (the media blanket term for all Islamic terrorist groups, it seems) are his ‘brothers in Islam’. This in itself will tell you Adebolajo’s agenda. Al-Qaeda’s end game is none other than the global Islamic state – that heinous instrument which aims to enslave humankind. This effectively negates Adebolajo’s earlier plea that he was doing to this to liberate ‘his people’, the very same people who kill each other more than any foreign power ever has. Adebolajo lives in a delusionary world, much like most Islamofascists.

The question we should ask is: Is this the goal of islam itself? Absolutely not! One of the most prominent principles from the Quran is ‘there is no compulsion in ad-deen’ (Quran 2/256) meaning in any aspect of the deen (usually translated as the system of islam), people should volunteer to practice whatever aspect of the faith They cannot be compelled to do so and yet this is exactly what Al-Qaeda seeks – to compel us to be unwilling citizens. So once again Adebolajo fails to represent what he claims to – Islam in this case.

For the Muslims who read this and wish to liberate our faith from the Islamofascists – analyse the rhetoric of Islamofascists deeply. They are usually full of holes and are anti-thetical to the Quran itself. Adebolajo is no exception to this but also look at softer groups which use highly academic language (like Muslim Public Affairs Committee and the newer Islamic Renaissance Front). These groups are not violent but try asking them what their end game is – what do they seek exactly by making Muslims political? Make them explicitly state their goals for all to see and you may be surprised. In the mean time, speak out against Adebolajo – he has hijacked our Allah and our Islam. Lets take these two terms back through our positive attitudes and action.

Saving the Quran from Michael Adebolajo

Michael Adebolajo will probably go down in history as the first terrorist who sought to be filmed before the police arrived. I looked for the video on Youtube and was fortunate enough to find a more complete version in which Adebolajo mentions the Quran. He said something along the lines of the Quran commanding Muslims to take an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. ‘Look it up’, he told his audience, ‘it’s in Sura Tauba’.

Right away I knew what school of thought Adebolajo belonged to – the Jihadis. They were notorious at chopping and changing the Quran to fit their agenda. The tricks they use (which will be described and thoroughly rebutted below) are simply nefarious – and Adebolajo fell for it. Today, in his first appearance in court, he came with a copy of the Quran. I could not forget this fact because the media repeated it at every turn.

I am a Quranist in my approach to Islam. What this means is that I reject the authority of Traditional Islam and read the Quran for myself. I believe everyone should read the Quran for himself or herself and interpret it according to their understanding. Therefore, I cannot deny that Adebolajo has the right to carry about the Quran. I do not own the text and neither does he. However, as a Muslim, it breaks my heart to see such an evil man be associated with the scripture of my religion. It was a perfect media moment today and I guess the fact that Adebolajo was clutching the Quran was mentioned about twenty times. The Quran will thus be etched in the mind of the viewer very strongly indeed – it is a book which terrorists uphold.

However, does Adebolajo have an actual ideological connection with the Quran? I would contend that he does not. I would further say that he is a traitor to the teachings of the Quran. His usage of the Quran is much like the other Islamofascists and Jihadis which is merely symbolic. It is to show a connection with the world heritage from which Jihadis get their language (though not their ideology) – the World of Islam. What gives me reason to say this? The fact the Quran itself never uses the word ‘jihad’ to mean ‘fighting’! The Quranic jihad to me is about exerting effort to bring about peace and justice which is the path of Allah. Adebolajo is more of an anti-jihadist, if anything. He has brought chaos to the nation and triggered violence and hate to the people whom he calls ‘our people’, the Muslims.

His tenuous connection can be seen with the aforementioned video from the day of the murder. He claims that the Quran teaches an ‘eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’. He must have swallowed what the hate preacher said wholesale because in their own Traditionalist reading, that statement is a quotation in the Quran about the Torah! You may check this for yourself in the Quran, Chapter 5 Verse 45 (and not in Chapter 9 as Adebolajo claimed in the video!) Therefore, in the reading from his own school of thought, Adebolajo was following the teachings of the Jews, the people whom Jihadis normally despise and blame for everything. Moreover, did he actually read to the end of that verse? The end of Chapter 5 Verse 45 praises those who forgive the wrongdoings of others. It says what whoever goes beyond the ‘eye for an eye’ stage, it becomes an expiation for him and thus a means of salvation. Why didn’t Adebolajo choose this route if he truly sought the good pleasure of Allah? My guess is he probably didn’t know about this.  Jihadis are rarely allowed to read the Quran for themselves. The hate preacher will be kind enough to read it on his behalf.

What about teachings of the Quran which Adebolajo ignored? He went against hundreds if not thousands of verses which preach against his heinous act. Chapter 4 Vs 86 for example, calls upon the believer to treat those who treat them positively in a better way or at the very least, in an equivalent way. Adebolajo’s family seemed to have settled well here. The Adebolajo children have tertiary education and the family home seems very nice indeed. Therefore, it is Michael Adebolajo’s duty as one who believes in the Quran to be a productive member of society. Instead he followed the teachings of the Islamofascists and brought chaos to this nation. He has therefore betrayed the Quran in that regard.

Another teaching he has ostensibly ignored is that of the covenant or agreement. As believers, we are to honour all our agreements. Indeed, success as believers includes the guarding of one’s covenant (The Quran, Chapter 23, Verses 1-11). This covenant would include our social contract that is to obey all his laws. If Adebolajo chose to renounce this covenant, he would have had to make a formal declaration that he is now at war with the nation and should be removed at once. He would then need to start in the nation of his choice and make his way to the UK. Border control would have then saved us all the hassle!

So this begs the question, how do Jihadis pull off their interpretation? To a large extent, it is simply by taking advantage of ignorance. The Quran is touted as an impenetrable book for which Muslims must study numerous other ‘sciences’ before they can grasp its message. Of course, when the Jihadis themselves use the Quran, it’s a whole other story. Possibly the most unethical tool the Jihadis use is the concept of abrogation. In this concept which they obtained from Traditional Islam (but use in a far more radical way), the Quran’s verses are said to cancel out each other because the Quran is said to have descended gradually to Prophet Muhammad.

For the Jihadis, the verse of the Quran called ‘the verse of the sword’ (Chapter 9 Verse 29) is said to abrogate a hundred other verses! Why this hyperbole? Obviously because the Quran radically emphasises peace, acceptance and harmony! The Jihadis want all that out of the way so they claim that this ‘verse of the sword’ cancels those other verses. In reality, the Quran itself does not support the idea of abrogation. The so-called ‘verse of the sword’ is a command to fight against those take away the sanctity of life – in other words, a command to fight people like Adebolajo himself! Read it in its proper context and you will see. Unfortunately with Jihadis, the only jihad (struggle) they fail to exert is the struggle to question their hate preachers when they read the Quran!

This act by Michael Adebolajo – to associate with the Quran during his trial – represents a watershed in our struggle against Islamophobia. The Muslims can expect to endure greater insults against our holy book thanks to this monster. What we need to do is get educated. Read the various interpretations and the counter arguments against the Jihadist reading. Indeed, the only way for their reading to appear credible is if one were blind as a bat. We need to show how the Quran can work for the good of any society. That is not a book of religious dogma but rather spiritual evolution. Books like the Tao Teh Ching and the Bhagavad Gita have surmounted this limitation – it is time for the Quran to do so as well.