Questions on your revised view (3)
Note: These questions are referring to the article: The True Meaning of Universality of the Qur’an)
“In particular the idea that prophets were used to be sent to all nations before Ibrahim (pbuh) and then were sent only to the descendants of Ibrahim (pbuh) to me contradicts the Qur’an. The Qur’an says very clearly that every nation has or had their own guides (13:7)”
How do you see 2:124? In this verse, God is doing a favor on Abraham. This favor is making him and his progeny the Imaam of The People. What is Imaam in your understanding and The People in this verse refers to who?
Please note, you are asking me rather technical questions here, and very good questions as well, so I also have to answer with a bit of technical language. Please bear with me and if you would like any further clarifications do not hesitate to let me know.
Verse 2:124 is as follows:
وَ إِذِ ابْتَلى إِبْراهيمَ رَبُّهُ بِكَلِماتٍ فَأَتَمَّهُنَ قالَ إِنِّي جاعِلُكَ لِلنَّاسِ إِماماً قالَ وَ مِنْ ذُرِّيَّتي قالَ لا يَنالُ عَهْدِي الظَّالِمين
You wrote the favour to Abraham (pbuh) was to make him and ‘his progeny’ the Imam of the people. Please note, the verse does not say ‘his progeny’. The verse says مِنْ ذُرِّيَّتي
This is normally translated as ‘from my progeny’. Min in this literal situation is normally for Tab’iz (indicating part of something). Only if we argue that min here is for tab’in (explaining) then we can argue that the whole progeny is intended, however I do not see why we need to go for that less apparent option. I therefore agree with Zamakhshari who translates the phrase as follows:
كأنه قال: و جاعل بعض ذريتي …
"As if he says: And make some of my progeny …’"
Also, the word nas in my understanding here simply means people who were practically in the vicinity of the family and generation of Abraham (pbuh). That is mostly Bani Israel and later, Ummi’in. Therefore my interpretation of the above verse is as follows:
"And recall when Abraham was put under challenge by His Lord through a few instructions and he fulfilled them. He (i.e. God) said: ‘I am making you leader for (your) people’. He (i.e. Abraham) said ‘And also from among my descendants?’. He (God) said ‘(yes but) My covenant does not apply to the oppressors (among your decendants)."
The above interpretation and expression is very much in line with many other verses of the Qur’an like 21:72, 73; 37:113; 32:23, 24; 14:37. I only quote the original Arabic of these verses, highlighting words and expressions that are in common between them and verse 2:124. I leave the translation to yourself:
وَ وَهَبۡنَا لَهُ ۥۤ إِسۡحَـٰقَ وَيَعۡقُوبَ نَافِلَةً۬ۖ وَكُلاًّ۬ جَعَلۡنَا صَـٰلِحِينَ وَ جَعَلۡنَـٰهُمۡ أَٮِٕمَّةً۬ يَہۡدُونَ بِأَمۡرِنَا وَأَوۡحَيۡنَآ إِلَيۡهِمۡ فِعۡلَ ٱلۡخَيۡرَٲتِ وَإِقَامَ ٱلصَّلَوٰةِ وَإِيتَآءَ ٱلزَّڪَوٰةِۖ وَكَانُواْ لَنَا عَـٰبِدِينَ
Note in the above verse, Imams from the generation of Ibrahim (pbuh) are in fact prophets.
وَ بارَكْنا عَلَيْهِ وَ عَلى إِسْحاقَ وَ مِنْ ذُرِّيَّتِهِما مُحْسِنٌ وَ ظالِمٌ لِنَفْسِهِ مُبينٌ
Note the above verse closely links with the end of verse 2:124. Here Min definitely means ‘some’
وَلَقَدۡ ءَاتَيۡنَا مُوسَى ٱلۡڪِتَـٰبَ فَلَا تَكُن فِى مِرۡيَةٍ۬ مِّن لِّقَآٮِٕهِۦۖ وَجَعَلۡنَـٰهُ هُدً۬ى لِّبَنِىٓ إِسۡرَٲٓءِيلَ و جَعَلۡنَا مِنۡہُمۡ أَٮِٕمَّةً۬ يَہۡدُونَ بِأَمۡرِنَا لَمَّا صَبَرُواْۖ وَڪَانُواْ بِـَٔايَـٰتِنَا يُوقِنُونَ
Note the above verse refers to Imams from the generation of Ibrahim (pbuh) and these cannot be the whole generation of Ibrahim (pbuh)
رَبَّنا إِنِّي أَسْكَنْتُ مِنْ ذُرِّيَّتي بِوادٍ غَيْرِ ذي زَرْعٍ عِنْدَ بَيْتِكَ الْمُحَرَّم
Note again the expression ‘min zurriyyati’ which here definitely cannot mean all my generation. Although the context is different from 2:124 but the expression is very similar. These similar expressions in the Qur’an are usually revealing the language of the Qur’an and its style of impression and the catch phrases of the Qur’an.
Another point that I would like to make is that even if we interpret min zurriyati here to mean ‘my whole generation’ and nas to mean ‘the entire mankind’, it does not mean that after Abraham (pbuh) God has changed his scheme of guidance and has switched the duty of prophets to ordinary people (i.e. Bani Israel and Ummi’in/Bani Ishmael). I have already appreciated in my article that the two communities of Bani Israel and Ummi’in (Bani Ishmael) are chosen communities and that they can have important role in spreading the message of monotheism among the mankind. This however does not mean that they are to play the role of the prophets and invite people to convert to their religion, or that all mankind is supposed to become Muslim. In this meaning, the verse will be very much similar to the following in Bible:
"The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, ‘I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.’ (Genesis, 22: 15-18)"
However there is a huge difference between the above and the idea that the Almighty has changed His scheme of guidance after Abraham (pbuh). This is a huge claim and therefore will need explicit verses of the Qur’an to spell it out, otherwise it remains as an unproved theory. This will be a theory that is against the explicit verses of the Qur’an, that are, those verses that make it clear that every nation has its own guide (13:7) and that every community has its own messenger (16:36).
The only reason such huge theory is derived from this verse is because it is assumed that the verse 2:124 associates with verse 2:143. Also because 2:143 is itself interpreted in a very theoretical way to load it with the theory of Bani Israel being responsible to invite the mankind to the religion of Islam. I do not see 2:124 to be associated with 2:143 and as I explained in my article, I do not agree with such theoretical interpretation of verse 2:143. So in my understanding such interpretation of 2:124 is the product of a double false reasoning, that is, a false association with a verse that itself is falsely interpreted.
Also, In the light of sending guides to every nation how do you see 33:40. Based on my understanding of what you wrote, shouldn't the guides still be sent, post Prophet Muhammad as well?
There is a difference in my current understanding between the technical words like Nabi, Rasul and general word like Had. The only place in the Qur’an that God refers to a source of guidance for all the nations (Qaum not Ummah) is 13:7 and there the word ‘had’ is used. I agree with Imam Tabari here that the word Had in this verse has a general meaning that can include any righteous spiritual leader:
عن ابن عباس، قوله: وَ لِكُلِّ قَوْمٍ هادٍ قال: داع. و قد بينت معنى الهداية، و أنه الإمام المتبع الذي يقدم القوم. فإذا كان ذلك كذلك، فجائز أن يكون ذلك هو الله … و جائز أن يكون نبي الله … و جائز أن يكون إماما من الأئمة …، و جائز أن يكون داعيا ... و إذا كان ذلك كذلك، فلا قول أولى في ذلك بالصواب من أن يقال كما قال جل ثناؤه: إن محمدا هو المنذر من أرسل إليه بالإنذار، و إن لكل قوم هاديا يهديهم فيتبعونه و يأتمون به
Ibn Abbas says: ‘the words Likulli Qaumin Had means preacher (Da’ii).’ I (i.e. Tabari) have explained the meaning of guidance. It is an Imam that is followed who leads his nation, so when it is like this, it is possible that this Imam be God (Himself) … and it is possible that it is a prophet of God … and it is possible that it is a leader from among leaders … and it is possible to be a preacher … So when it is like this, then no view is more correct that the one that explains the verse as follows: ‘Muhammad is a warner for those who he has been sent to warn, and every nation has a guide who guide them and they follow him and trust him
What 33:40 says is that no Nabi (and therefore no Rasul) will be sent after prophet Muhammad (pbuh). However, if you agree with what Imam Tabari explains above, a Had that is a normal righteous guide can always emerge in any society, as we have many of them right now in every nation. Obviously these are fallible normal guides and definitely not capable of receiving any systematic direct revelation.
So basically, according to my current understanding, God did not send prophets (in the technical meaning that the Qur'an is referring to in most verses) to all nations. Rather, all nations had and have naturally emerging guides. However God blessed some nations in particular with sending them guides who were capable of receiving systematic direct revelation. These are what we refer to technically as prophets and messengers.
Please note, even if Had in 13:7 is interpreted as 'messenger/prophet' the above point about normal guides still holds. It is a simple observation that God has practically left the guidance of many nations to their own local and naturally emerging guides.
Also, How will you define nation?
I am very much in agreement with scholars like Amin al-Khouli and Bint al-Sha’ti who argue that there are no synonyms in the Qur’an, meaning, in the Qur’an when two different words are used, their meaning cannot be exactly the same. I translate قوم as ‘nation’ and I translate امه as ‘community’. It appears from the Qur’an that the word ummah is mostly used when referring to a specific community of faith, while the word Qaum is mostly used to refer to a nation or a group from among a nation. Ummah therefore is more oriented over common belief while Qaum (nation) is more oriented over common geographical area. When God refers to the people who lived at the place of Noah (pbuh) He does not call them Ummah of Noah (pbuh), He calls them Qaum of Nuh (pbuh) – 7:69. Similar examples can be found abundantly in the Qur’an.
As for customising the shari’ah, I think what you mean by this is to evolve those part of the form of the shari’ah that no longer serve their purpose (wisdom) due to the evolvement of civilisations.
Not every time the purpose is mentioned behind the laws. In such cases there is no way to know with complete certainty the wisdom. For example, the opinion of Javed Ghamidi about wisdom for pronouncing Allah's name before slaughter is different from your opinion. Do you then think such duality is inevitable or is there any definite way to derive wisdom.
Of course differences of opinions can exist and this does not rule out the validity of an approach. Just as in interpreting the words of the Qur’an on a particular directive there can be differences of opinion, in understanding the wisdom behind a directive also there can be differences of opinion.
Although I have found that in most verses on shari’ah the wisdom is also mentioned, we do not really need this to be mentioned for all verses.
Two points need to be understood:
- That part of the form of the shari’ah that needs to be evolved with societies is the one that relates to our collective affairs (e.g. marriage, divorce, penal law, etc.). The subjects and the treatments of these affairs in the Qur’an itself shows that the objective was to establish justice and to avoid misconduct in the society and in between people. There is no hidden agenda here.
- The whole religion is on the basis of rationality and (from there) morality (Akhlaq). If we find that any form of the shari’ah at our time does not serve its purpose any more or goes against our moral values, then religiously we are obliged to evolve and change that form of the shari’ah.
Also, when we are deriving the wisdom it's a Justification. Shari'a is in the Qur'an so it's a definite Evidence. When we are trying to Evolve Shari'a we are changing something definite based on something which is not definite. In your opinion is this correct thing to do?
First please follow my terminology when communicating with me so that we make sure we are both referring to the same things. I never said that the shari’ah needs to be evolved. I wrote the form of the shari’ah may need to be evolved. I wrote:
The shari‘ah in this terminology refers to a religious path that leads to that spiritual purification that is the goal of the religion. Form of the shari‘ah refers to a system of law and rituals that is formulated within the path of the shari‘ah.
We need to decide which side of the fence we are. If we decide about this, then the above question will not be relevant any more. You can agree with one of the following:
A. The form of the shari’ah of the Qur’an was given for the whole mankind and forever with a provision that it never needs to be changed. I.e. even if we are living 1000,000 years after hijrah, still the same form applies.
B. The form of the shari’ah of the Qur’an was given for the Arabs of the time and based on their own norms and routines. It was never meant to be a universal and permanent form.
If you agree with A, then instead of asking me the above question you need to bring reasons why you agree with it and why you disagree with my reasoning against it.
If you agree with B, then your sentence “(the form of) Shari'a is in the Qur'an so it's a definite Evidence” cannot be correct. This is because the correct sentence will be as follows: “(the form of) Shari'a is in the Qur'an so it was a definite Evidence for the Arabs at the time”.
The whole idea that the form of the shari’ah that was given to Arabs at the time needs to be implemented for all times and locations in my view is based on ijtihad and I consider this ijtihad to be wrong.
The form of Shari’ah was evolving even while the Qur’an was revealed (abrogation) and was evolved in the hands of the first Caliphs of Islam.
But, where do we stop evolving it? One may argue that Saint Paul was doing the same thing. But, we know he went too far. How do we define what can be evolved and what can be not?
There is absolutely no similarity between what I (and many other scholars) are saying and what Saint Paul did. Saint Paul (as far as we know, and God knows best) brought two biases into the belief of Christianity. First, the concept of divinity of Jesus (pbuh) and second, denying the need for any form of shari’ah.
I am not denying the need for having a form of the shari’ah, I deny the idea that this form has to be fixed and static forever. Otherwise I have very explicitly wrote in my article:
The communities of God who entered a covenant with the Almighty are privileged by being given a shari‘ah. This is to maintain their position of the chosen nations and remain practical illustrations of monotheist God aware communities. Any other people who by choice or by birth have entered the same covenant will also enjoy the same privilege.
Javed Ghamidi is of the opinion that any law mentioned in Qur'an can not be evolved. But, this is just not possible. Plus, he himself suggested change in law when it comes to timing of fasting. This confused me.
I give you right to be confused. If we believe that the form of the shari’ah is to be fixed forever, then we should follow this view for all the cases. We then should not complain about a husband beating his wife, taking slaves in wars, having the religious duty of fasting for 22 hours in some areas of the earth, cutting hand and leg of one who is brought anarchy in the land or putting him on a cross, etc. As I wrote in my article:
In fact many of our scholars today who insist that the form of the shari‘ah remains for ever, do appreciate that some of the instructions of the Qur’an are no longer relevant to our time. For example many do not consider slavery or beating the wife to be appropriate anymore. The only thing is that they do not call this, ‘change or evolvement of the form of the shari‘ah’ rather, they argue that these instructions were not meant to be permanent. However there is nothing in the wording of these instructions in the Qur’an that would make them any different from other legal verses of the Qur’an. I argue that if the same scholars were living 700 years ago, just like almost all the scholars at that time, they would never thought that these instructions were temporary. I also argue that if the same scholars were living in 700 years from now, they would consider some other instructions of the Qur’an to be temporary as well.
I agree with your explanation about evolution of Shari'a but I'm afraid this opens a Pandora Box and this is exactly what Saint Paul did and went wrong as he in the end removed Shari'a completely. I'm confused if this can be the correct approach until and unless we can clearly define what can not be evolved and why. I'll really appreciate if you can comment on this.
As I explained above there is absolutely no similarity between this approach and what St. Paul assumingly did. As far as I see there is no paradox in the approach that I am explaining. The paradox is indeed in the traditional approach, as I tried to illustrate above.
On the other hand till when you think we can defend our understanding of Islam while practically treating women as second degree citizens and believing in a form of penal law that even by our own standards is sometimes seen as unjustifiably violent?
The paradox in the traditional thinking therefore is in two dimensions:
- Practical Paradox: in that while believing the form of the shari’ah is fixed, practically changing some of the forms of the shari’ah by considering those to be temporary or not part of the shari’ah.
- Theoretical Paradox: in that we introduce Islam as a religion that is inline with rationality and morality, yet we fall into irrational and immoral practices due to our insisting that the form of the shari’ah should not be evolved.
In my view, Khatmi Nabuwwah (end of prophet hood) does not mean that the form of the shari’ah is now fixed forever. Rather, it means you are now good enough to take this as a base and to use your rationality to evolve it with time and use it as it fits. Also, the fact that not all nations had prophets as we define them, to me is another evidence that God considers our rationality to be the most advanced revelation that we can get.
My dear brother, at the end the question is as follows: What is closer to a righteous community?
To ignore the drastic change of civilisations and circumstances throughout the history and try to adopt rules that were specific to a particular community and particular time for ever.
To value the most valuable gift that the Almighty has given us, and to use it to evolve those rulings that need to evolve by time, while appreciating and accepting possibility of mistake?
In my view the first approach is heading away from righteous community while the second is heading towards it. In my view, passing of time makes the falsehood of the first approach and the truthfulness of the second more obvious. Today, after 1400 years, it is almost consider as obvious fact among reformist scholars and their followers that taking slaves and beating wives are wrong, despite them explicitly allowed in the Qur’an. I am sure that if we were living, say, in 2400 after hijrah, many other rulings of the Qur’an would have been dismissed by considering them to be temporary for the time. It is up to us whether we want to use our intelligence to appreciate this just now, or to leave it to our generations after us to appreciating it, while criticising us for being close minded, just as we are now criticising some scholars of the past for the same reason.