Islam, Islamism and Reformation
A believer’s guide to break free of the medievalism that Islamist fanatics exploit.
Before I start, I want to make it clear that I’m not an Islamic scholar. Therefore, I could have made mistakes while writing this article. I’ll be grateful to anyone who would point them out. I’m writing this as a concerned Muslim, and world citizen. My intention is not to antagonize anyone. I hope everyone reads this with an open mind.
The fall of the Iron curtain and disintegration of the Soviet Union was celebrated worldwide. It was the most clinching evidence, if anyone needed one, of communism’s comprehensive defeat as an ideology. People were jubilant and envisioned a future of peace, progress and prosperity. Globalization, and later the Internet made the world a smaller place. It’s even possible that nationalities could cease to exist or matter over the next 100-150 years. The forward march towards a sophisticated and highly rational civilization has begun.
In reality, unfortunately, things are not that simple. Since all motions are relative (depends on the point of view of the individual), there is a significant minority which views it the other way/opposite direction. This decadent minority would go at any length to establish its malicious agenda even if it means large scale genocides, brutal wars and absolute infringement of individual rights.
The Islamists belong to the evil minority. Virtually no part of the world is untouched by these lunatics. The Islamists claim that they are the warriors of Islam and everything they do is in the name of Allah. They quote Islamic scriptures to justify their barbaric acts and call it ‘Jihad’ or the holy war. These terrorists brainwash the feeble-minded into becoming suicide bombers (from an Islamist perspective- A martyr) and create havoc by killing innocents and disrupting normal life. Strangely, most of the victims of Islamist terror are fellow Muslims. It makes one wonder, why is the majority of Muslim society suffering today? Many frail-minded folks would blame the West for all their problems. But the fact remains that the enemy is within. Only when Muslims realize this, we can hope to change for the better.
I analyze some specifics/issues in Islam which I believe are a major hindrance to the progress of Muslim society. I shall also attempt to offer solutions which are reconcilable with the spirit of Islam and congruous to achieving the goal of global peace. Some of the issues in discussion are faced by every human being, regardless of race, religion and sex. These are social, economic and political problems at a personal and societal level. Other issues clearly exist as a result of blindly adhering to some irrational, medieval and tribal dogmas.
Some of the issue I look at include
1) Women’s rights, Polygamy and marriage
2) Apostasy and Blasphemy
3) Jihad and martyrdom
4) Homosexuality and adultery
5) Slavery, concept of blood money and Kafir/Kufr/Infidels
Women’s Rights, Polygamy and Marriage
“O ye who believe! it is not lawful for you to inherit women against their will; nor should you detain them wrongfully that you may take away part of that which you have given them, except that they be guilty of a flagrant evil; and consort with them in kindness; and if you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing wherein Allah has placed much good.” (The Quran – Ch.4:V.20)
It’s a well known fact that pre-Islamic Arabia was a living hell for women. Men could have any number of wives and the concept of woman being an equal member of the society was unknown. Prophet Mohammed introduced many reforms which resulted in a significant betterment of women in the Arab society. Prostitution was banned; women got a share in property, the limit of wives for each man was brought down to four. The changes were monumental for 6th century Arabia. But, now we are in the 21st century and as every religion in the world has evolved, so must we.
In the modern world, women are considered equal to men whether it’s in military, finance, science or any other field. Individuality is a human right and is crucial for anyone to succeed and elevate his status in the current society. Unfortunately, this is not the case with a large section of Muslims especially in countries where the Sharia Law is implemented. The world is aware of these draconian Laws. For example:
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more strength than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah would have them to guard. As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance); for Allah is most High and Great (above you all). If you fear a breach between them twain, appoint (two) arbiters, one from his family and the other from hers. If they wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation; for Allah has full knowledge and is acquainted with all things.” (The Holy Quran- An-Nisa’: 34-35)
The above verse is often used by Islamists to assault and torture women who are not “obedient”. A more rational person would interpret the meaning very differently here. The Arabic word used in Verse 4:34 above is ‘idribuhunna’, which is derived from ‘daraba’ which means “to beat”. The issue with all of the Arabic words that are derived from the word ‘daraba’ is that they don’t necessarily mean “hit”. The word ‘idribuhunna’ for instance, could very well mean to “leave” them. It is exactly like telling someone to “beat it” or “drop it” in English. The word “daraba” is also used in the Quranic verse 14:24:
“Seest thou not how Allah sets (daraba) forth a parable? — A goodly Word Like a goodly tree, Whose root is firmly fixed, And its branches (reach) To the heavens”.
‘Daraba’ here meant “give an example”. If I say in Arabic ‘daraba laka mathal’, it means “give you an example”. This is just one of the examples of how some scholars of Islam struggle with the interpretation of many Quranic verses.
However, the problem is much more deep rooted. Several Hadiths order Muslim men to beat women for almost any reason. For example:
Sahih Bukhari (72:715) – “A woman came to Muhammad and begged her to stop her husband from beating her. Her skin was bruised so badly that she it is described as being “greener” than the green veil she was wearing. Muhammad did not admonish her husband, but instead ordered her to return to him and submit to his sexual desires.”
Abu Dawud (2142) – “The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: A man will not be asked as to why he beat his wife.”
The Hadiths quoted above a considered “authentic” by Islamic scholars. One may ask, what does this indicate? It’s pretty obvious that if the Islamist scholars cannot twist the meaning of the verses from the Quran, they use the Hadith and other related sources (which I won’t even bother exploring in my article). As far as the veracity of Hadiths is concerned, I would suggest people to read “The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence” – a widely influential work of noted British-German orientalist Joseph Schacht on the medieval ‘ilm al-ḥadith’, or the science of Hadith literature. It clearly shows how flawed the methodology of collecting the Hadiths was and why it’s not a foolproof description of the Prophet’s Sunnah.
I know I have just hit a raw nerve of most Muslims now by questioning the authenticity of most Hadiths. But ask yourself, as civilized and educated folks, can we allow our daughters, sisters and mothers to be beaten by other men?
I ask you to pay heed to the verse below and introspect:
“Among His Signs is this, that he created for you mates from among yourselves, that they may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): Verily in that are signs for those who reflect.” [The Quran 30:21]
Another controversial issue is polygamy. Although only 2-3% of the Muslim men follow this, the fact is that the Islamists believe that it’s OK to have four wives. The orthodox ulema justify polygamy on the most frivolous grounds. Firstly, they argue that men’s sexual needs are greater than those of women; secondly, they argue that women go through periods or give birth to children and hence man needs more than one wife. They also argue that if a woman is terminally ill, it is better to marry another woman rather than divorce her and make her a psychological ‘wreck’. Also, if she is barren and cannot give birth to another child, it is better to take second wife without divorcing her and add to her woes. She already suffers from lack of children.
“If you fear you will not deal justly by the orphans, marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four; and if you fear that you cannot do justice (to so many) then one (only) or the captives that your right hands possess. Thus it is more likely that you will not do injustice” (The Quran 4:2-3).
I shall explain about the “captives” a little later when I discuss slavery, but basically this is the verse which the Islamists justify for having four wives. These “polygamy verses” were revealed shortly after the battle of Uhud, which was a devastating loss to the early Muslim community with many men dying in the battlefield. The gender imbalance, and the fact that at the time and place women largely depended on men for their economic survival, made polygamy a pragmatic solution for a woman seeking protection for herself and protection for her children who often had valuable property in their name that could be stolen or mismanaged by male guardians. So it is clear that the Quran permits polygamy for the purpose of caring for orphaned children and defending their assets The world has changed a lot since 6th century. This practice may have served a purpose back then, but is downright unacceptable today!
Apostasy and Blasphemy
“There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is here forth distinct from error…” [The Quran 2:256]
“And so, O Prophet, exhort them, thy task is ONLY to exhort; thou canst NOT compel them to believe.” [The Quran 88:21-22]
“Call thou (all mankind) unto thy Sustainer’s path with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in MOST KINDLY MANNER…” [The Quran 16:125]
From the above verses, one may think that apostates and non-Muslims have the option of discarding and criticizing Islam whenever they feel like. These are principles adopted in a civilized, democratic and secular society. Unfortunately, there are several other sources which advocate the exact opposite. For example:
“How shall God guide those who reject Faith after they accepted it and bore witness that the apostle was true and that clear signs had come unto them? But God guides not a people unjust. Of such the reward is that on them (rests) the curse of God, of His Angels, and of all mankind;–In that will they dwell; nor will their penalty be lightened, nor respite be their lot;–except for those that repent (even) after that, make amends; For verily God is oft-forgiving, most merciful.” [The Quran 3:86-89]
Islamists use the phrase, “curse of Allah,” as a license to murder anyone considered to be an apostate. Plus there are several Hadiths which call for the murder of apostates.
“Narrated Ikrima: Ali burnt some people and this news reached Ibn ‘Abbas, who said, “Had I been in his place I would not have burnt them, as the Prophet said, ‘Don’t punish (anybody) with Allah’s Punishment.’ No doubt, I would have killed them, for the Prophet said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.’ ”
Sahih Bukhari 4:52:260
‘Abdullah (b. Mas’ud) reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: It is not permissible to take the life of a Muslim who bears testimony (to the fact that there is no god but Allah, and I am the Messenger of Allah), but in one of the three cases: the married adulterer, a life for life, and the deserter of his Din (Islam), abandoning the community.
Sahih Muslim 16:4152
Based on these verses and sayings, some Muslim majority nations enforce apostasy laws with severe penalties (including death). There simply cannot be a debate on this. This barbaric law has to go.
Another aspect on similar lines which includes non-Muslims too is blasphemy. For criticizing the Quran or Prophet Mohammed, the penalty is severe (in many cases death). This is another draconian law which has no place in a civilized society whose foundations are based on freedom of speech and expression.
The 2011 assassination of Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, and a high-profile leader of the Pakistan People’s Party is a case in point. The terrorists who decided to gun him down claiming he was the enemy of Islam because he spoke out against his country’s blasphemy laws. What’s most surprising is how explicitly some verses in The Quran talk against the concept of blasphemy and despite this, the Islamists fight for this inhuman law.
“And when they hear vain talk, they turn away therefrom and say: “to us our deeds and to you yours; peace be to you.” [The Quran 28: 55]
“And the servants of Allah . . . are those who walked on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say ‘Peace'” [The Quran 25:63]
“Allah is with those who restrain themselves.” [The Quran 16: 128]
“The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto: but if a person forgets and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from Allah.” [The Quran 62:40]
Jihad and Martyrdom
There are two commonly accepted meanings of jihad: an inner spiritual struggle and an outer physical struggle. The “greater jihad” is the inner struggle by a believer to fulfil his or her religious duties. Muslim jurists explained there are four kinds of jihad fi sabilillah (struggle in the cause of God):
Jihad of the heart (jihad bil qalb/nafs) is concerned with combating the devil and in the attempt to escape his persuasion to evil. This type of Jihad was regarded as the greater jihad (al-jihad al-akbar).
Jihad by the tongue (jihad bil lisan) is concerned with speaking the truth and spreading the word of Islam with one’s tongue.
Jihad by the hand (jihad bil yad) refers to choosing to do what is right and to combat injustice and what is wrong with action.
Jihad by the sword (jihad bis saif) refers to qital fi sabilillah (armed fighting in the way of God, or holy war), the most common usage by Salafi Muslims and Islamists.
Some contemporary Islamists have succeeded in replacing the greater jihad, the fight against desires, with the lesser jihad, the holy war to establish, defend and extend the Islamic state. Media has coined a term for these extremists – “Jihadis”, which is appropriate given the current scenario of Jihadi terrorism. Jihadis are the biggest security threat to the world. From Saudi Arabia to Chechnya, they have set up camps in most nations. Their brutalities and their modus operandi (suicide bombings, IEDs etc) are well known. It should be obvious to everyone what their next target is–acquiring nuclear weapons. One may wonder what the scriptures say about this menace of violent Jihad. After all, they are motivated by the verses of the Quran, right?
One view is that according to the Quran, killing any person without a just cause is as big a sin as killing the whole humanity and saving the life of one person is as good deed as saving the whole humanity. (The Quran: Al-Ma’idah: 32)
Take not life, which Allah hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus does He command you, that ye may learn wisdom.” (The Quran- Al-An`am: 151)
The Quran even demands the safety of non-believer.
“And if anyone of the idolaters seeketh thy protection (O Muhammad), then protect him so that he may hear the word of God, and afterward convey him to his place of safety. “(The Qur’an 9:6)
Many other verses in the Quran talk about fighting the enemy (which may not necessarily by perceived as non- Muslims only). What’s most important to recognize is “Sanction is given unto those who fight because they have been wronged… (The Quran 22:39-41)”
“Fight in the cause of God those WHO FIGHT YOU, but do not transgress limits; for God loveth not transgressors. (The Quran, 2:190)”
“But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in God: for He is One that heareth and knoweth (all things). (The Quran, 8:61)”
“If thou dost stretch thy hand against me, to slay me, it is not for me to stretch my hand against thee to slay thee: for I do fear God, the cherisher of the worlds. (The Quran, 5:28)”
“God does not forbid you from showing kindness and dealing justly with those WHO HAVE NOT FOUGHT WITH YOU about religion and HAVE NOT DRIVEN YOU OUT OF YOUR HOMES. God loves just dealers. (The Quran, 60:8)”
“And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for God. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrongdoers. (The Quran 2:193)”
“Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error…. (The Quran, 2:256)”
“Say, ‘The truth is from your Lord’: Let him who will believe, and let him who will, reject (it):……(The Quran, 18:29)”
“If it had been thy Lord’s will, they would all have believed,- all who are on earth! wilt thou then COMPEL mankind, against their will, to believe! (The Quran, 10:99)”
“Say : O ye that reject Faith! I worship not that which ye worship, Nor will ye worship that which I worship. And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship, Nor will ye worship that which I worship. To you be your Way, and to me mine. (The Quran, 109:1-6)”
Here is another view.
“Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors. And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers. “ (The Quran – 2:190-195; 2:216-218; 2:244)
“Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free”…. (The Quran -9:5)
“Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the religion of truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low. And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah, and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah. That is their saying with their mouths. They imitate the saying of those who disbelieved of old. Allah (Himself) fighteth against them. How perverse are they!” (The Quran – 9:29,30)
“O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites! Be harsh with them. Their ultimate abode is hell, a hapless journey’s end.” (The Quran 9:73)
“O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him).” ( The Quran 9:123)
You can clearly see which point of view the jihadis are inspired by. I am no scholar to interpret these verses in from every angle. My concern is about the literal interpretation of them. If even half the world Muslim population took this literally, there would be Armageddon. I urge every Muslim to reject this flawed doctrine of violent jihad (regardless of what the mullahs want you to believe) and must dissociate with all jihadi sympathizers.
As far as the concept of Matrydom or Istishhad (specifically- jihadi suicide bombers) is concerned, the notion itself is absurd. The Oxford neuroscientists Kathleen Taylor says that religious fundamentalism can be characterized as a mental illness. In most cases you can clearly see that the bombers are brainwashed and desperately need psychiatric help. Thankfully, Oxford-based Malaysian jurist, Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti and many like him have passed fatwas against suicide bombing and targeting innocent civilians.
Homosexuality and Adultery
Homosexuality is a grave sin in Islam. It is considered an abomination in every Islamic school of thought. For example according to the Hanafi school, the homosexual is first punished through harsh beating, and if he/she repeats the act, the death penalty is to be applied. The Quranic interpretation links the destruction of Sodom specifically to the homosexual activities of its inhabitants (the people of Lut). In Shariah courts for the transgression to be proven, at least four men or eight women must bear witness against the accused.
This view of homosexuality stems from the belief that it is a mental disorder or a sign of depraved character. Science has proved that there is nothing unnatural about homosexuality. It is found in almost all mammals. The argument conservatives make is that it is against the natural order or it would be disastrous for human relationships and would make everyone immoral. But that’s another debate. Considering the latest scientific revelations, I urge fellow Muslims to have a rethink on homosexuality, and have a liberal approach. We can start by scrapping ludicrous penalties imposed on gays.
Adultery is another major sin in Islam. Women are even today stoned to death in places governed by Sharia Law for committing adultery. Young girls are killed by their parents to save the family honour. Below are some verses quoted from the Holy Quran.
“The woman and the man guilty of unlawful sex (adultery or fornication), flog each of them with a hundred stripes; let not compassion move you in their case in a matter prescribed by Allah if ye believe in Allah and the Last day; and let a party of the believers witness their punishment”. (The Quran 24:2)
“As for those of your women who are guilty of lewdness, call to witness four of you against them. And if they testify (to the truth of the allegation) then confine them to the houses until death take them or (until) Allah appoint for them a way (through new legislation)” (The Quran 4:15)
“And come not near unto adultery. Lo! it is an abomination and an evil way” (The Quran, Al-Isra’ 17: 32)
Adultery is considered reprehensible in many countries, not just those that follow the Islamic law. But nowhere are the adulterers flogged or stoned to death except Islamic states. Clearly this barbaric form of punishment has no place in a civilized society.
Slavery, Blood Money and Kafirs
In the civilized world, slavery has been abolished. But advocates such as Zakir Naik claim it is lawful for male masters to have sexual relations with female captives and slaves. Slaves were offered as part of the booty and made captives during the wars in Pre-Islamic Arabia. Prophet Mohammed ordered Muslims to treat slaves with kindness and make efforts grant freedom to as many as possible.
Surah At-Tawbah (9:60) from The Quran specifies that Zakat is to be used for freeing slaves and bonded labourers. Muslims must regard slavery as an evil and show zero tolerance towards anyone who tries to legitimize it.
The Islamic states also have a concept of Diyya– the financial compensation paid to the heirs of a victim. In Arabic, the word means both blood money and ransom. The reason I chose to bring up this issue is because of some rotten decisions passed off by the Sharia courts as Islamic judgments. Recently, a cleric raped his 5-year-old daughter and killed her. He was let off by the Sharia court when he agreed to pay blood money. This is worse than some of the racial laws legislated by the Nazis.
There has been a lot of debate on certain terms like Kafir and Kufr in recent years. The Islamists use these words to addresses all non Muslims. Let’s see it from an Islamic perspective. Kafir is the one who after knowing Islam rejects it. Whereas a non-Muslim could be anyone who has neither studied Islam nor has made a conscious decision of rejecting it as is also evident from the following verses.
“Those who disbelieve among the people of the book and among the polytheists…” (The Quran, 98:6).
“And whoever invokes (or worships), besides Allah, any other ilah (god), of whom he has no proof; then his reckoning is only with his Lord. Surely! Al-Kafirun (the disbelievers in Allah and in the Oneness of Allah, polytheists, pagans, idolaters) will not be successful.” (The Quran, 23:117)
Kufr is an act and not just a label for all non-Muslims. What is forbidden for Muslims is the relationship of wilayah with Kafirs (who knowingly reject Islam). Hence we see this hostility towards people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Salman Rushdie etc. Even relatively moderate Muslims despise them for various reasons. In Islamic states, Kafirs would be rewarded the death penalty. Nowadays, the Islamists have started attacking even the non-Muslims who criticize Islam. From writers who wanted to translate/publish the Satanic Verses to Dutch Film maker Van Gogh were killed brutally by these terrorists. The most disturbing fact we’ve found from all aspects discussed above is the harshness/severity of the penalties involved. These are medieval and inhuman in nature and they cannot be relevant in the modern world. This is precisely what I want my fellow Muslims to realize and condemn in the most effective way possible.
Reformation in Islam has been discussed and debated for centuries. More recently, advocates of international human rights such as Abdolkarim Soroush, Asghar Ali Engineer and Khaled Abou El-Fadl – attempted to develop Islamic support for human rights through a critical examination of Sharia and calls for ijtihad (independent juridical reasoning) and reinterpretation of the Quran and Sunna of the Prophet (Hadith).The conflict with the interpretation comes in cases such as principles of human rights as we know them today, principles like freedom of religion and equality for women. But for each verse that seems to support an antediluvian view, there can be found another that preaches the complete opposite.
This is the real issue we face. It is crucial to establish a consistent framework of interpretation and not simply the availability of texts of Quran that can be understood one way or another. How do we begin? First, Muslims and other believers should be able to propose policy and legislative initiatives emanating from their religious beliefs, provided they can support them in free and open debate by giving reasons that are accessible, transparent and convincing to the generality of citizens, regardless of their religion or other beliefs. If it’s a Muslim majority nation, the state action must conform to basic democratic, constitutional and human rights safeguards to protect all its citizens against the tyranny of the majority.
The reason why counties like Saudi Arabia and Iran are flawed theocracies is because they fail to realize that Sharia can only be freely observed by believers, and its principles lose their religious authority and value when enforced by the state. Religion requires free reflection and choice by believers among equally accessible competing interpretations and religious authorities, independently from coercive authority of the state. It’s absurd to present state law as a divine command.
The Way Forward
Unfortunately today, a large section of Muslims are in a state of cognitive dissonance. The scenario is partly comparable to Church’s anxiety during the time of European Renaissance. Now more than ever, it’s within our capacity to consciously make sense of things, apply logic, establish/verify facts, change /justify practices, institutions, and beliefs based on new or existing information. It’s time to break from the clutches of dogma and medievalism.
“That man can have nothing but what he strives for; That the fruit of his striving will soon come in sight: Then will he be rewarded with a reward complete.”
(The Quran 53:39-41)