Ignorance in our midst

People I have spoken with often hasten to call Jews and Christians disbelievers. I am disconcerted at the ease with which people condemn whole communities. Are all Jews and Christians ‘Kafir’ and all those who call themselves ‘Muslim’, believers? The Arabic word ‘Muslim’ translates to ‘one who submits to God’ in English. By virtue of this those who submitted to what was revealed to the Prophets are all ‘Muslim’. Al Quran(3:52) “When Jesus sensed disbelief, he said: Who are my helpers toward Allah? The disciples said: We are the helpers of Allah; we believe in Allah, and bear witness that we are Muslims.” Al Quran(7:159) “And of the people of Moses there is a community who guide with the truth and act justly.”

The tradition-bound and the obstinately opinionated will state outright that Jews and Christians cannot be trusted. Al Quran(5:51) “O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as friends; they are but friends of each other. And if any amongst you takes them as friends, then surely he is one of them. Verily, God guides not those people who are wrong-doers.” They will claim that Judaism and Christianity are not religions recognized by Islam. Al Quran(3:85) “And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers.”

But the Arabic word ‘Islam’ translates to ‘Submission to the will of God’ in English. Can we say with certainty that all Jews and Christians don’t submit but all who call themselves ‘Muslim’, do? Al Quran(5:69) “Surely, those who believe and those who are Jews and the Sabians and the Christians – whosoever believes in God and the Last Day, and does righteous deeds, on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve.” Al Quran(22:40) “And were it not for Allah restraining mankind through the act of some opposing others, pulled down would be monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques wherein the name of Allah is mentioned in great profusion.”

I am saddened by the ‘Jahiliyah’ of a people who have in their possession a beautifully written book of prose and poetry – The Noble Quran. Al Quran(29:46) “And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in a way that is good, except with those among them that transgress; and say: We believe in that which has been sent down to us and sent down to you; our God and your God is One, and we have to Him submitted.” The problem is that people in our community are often ill-informed; their prejudice mostly gets the better of them. Any attempt at dialogue/debate to rectify this imbalance is usually met with a volley of ‘Quranic’ rhetoric and threats of violence. Is it any wonder that our fellow citizens look at us with the greatest of suspicion; probably asking themselves what it is that we are doing in this country if we do not agree with its ethos.

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An opinion on the ‘Schism’

I am trying to ascertain what exactly happened subsequent to the death of our beloved Prophet. From what I have researched I can summarise that there was a sudden and an acute power vacuum. The selection of a temporal leader turned into a battle of succession for the very soul of Islam. Clan/Tribal allegiances came to the fore as ground realities clashed with the naivety of the ‘Sahabah’. Sassanid Persia and Roman Byzantine were waiting in the offing and false prophets were raising their ugly heads.

It must be the case that the Prophet left no clear instructions as to who would lead the Muslims after his death. I believe he did this deliberately because an explicit appointment would have accorded sanctity to the individual/clan. This in turn would have set a precedence for the creation of a religious figurehead with the stature of a prophet. Our Prophet understood the pitfalls of leaving behind an institution that would have become a proxy for the Noble Quran.

What is surprising is that even those closest to the Prophet disagreed about who should lead the ‘Ummah’ after his death. It’s difficult to contemplate that if the Prophet did leave clear instructions, those closest to him would disagree so soon after his death. That’s my reason for insisting that power should’ve been devolved to the clans/tribes, not institutionalised in a Caliphate.

Religious institutions are inherently corrupt because they usurp power from the communities they claim to represent. The Caliphate by default would’ve acted as proxy for the Noble Quran and the Sunnah, creating resentment in sections of the ‘Ummah’. Those whose wealth and/or position had not dissipated in the struggle for Islam, would inevitably come to dominate the Caliphate.

Concentration of power mostly results in nepotism and sycophancy, suffocating the individuals’ aspiration to achieve through merit. Hence, the absence of an enlightened ‘Ummah’ through informed scholarship; instead a pervasive ‘Jahalat’ promoted by a leadership that only reflects the prejudices of the body politic.

The declaration of faith

I have often asked myself: What Shahadah did the Prophets and other ‘Muslims’ before Muhammad recite?

‘Allah testifies: La ilaha illa Huwa, and the angels, and those having knowledge – truthfully, equitably. La ilaha illa Huwa, the All-Mighty, the All-Wise’ (3:18).
‘And We did not send any Messenger before you [O Muhammad] but We revealed to him: La ilaha illa ana, so worship Me’ (21:25).
‘He has ordained for you the same religion which He ordained for Noah, and that which We have revealed to you [O Muhammad], and that which We ordained for Abraham, Moses and Jesus – saying you should establish religion and make no divisions in it’ (42:13).
‘The Messenger believes in what has been sent down to him from his Lord, and the believers. Each one believes in Allah, His Angels, His Books, and His Messengers. [They say:] We make no distinction between one another of His Messengers, and they say – We hear and we obey’ (2:285).
‘Muhammad is no more than a Messenger, and indeed Messengers have passed away before him’ (3:144).

The unity of the Godhead is at the core of that which was revealed to all of the Prophets. We believe that it is this God that revealed the Torah to Moses, the Psalms to David, the Gospel to Jesus and the Quran to Muhammad. Therefore, articles of faith as prescribed in these scriptures cannot contain contradictions. It would be inconsistent for each of the Prophets to have told their respective congregation to recite a different Shahadah.

‘When the hypocrites come to you [O Muhammad], they say: We bear witness that you are indeed the Messenger of Allah. Allah knows that you are indeed His Messenger, and Allah bears witness that the hypocrites are liars indeed’. ‘They have made their oaths a screen [for their hypocrisy]. Thus they hinder [men] from the Path of Allah. Verily, evil is what they used to do’ (63:1/2). ‘Have you [O Muhammad] not seen those [hypocrites] who take as friends a people upon whom is the Wrath of Allah? They are neither of you nor of them, and they swear to a lie while they know’. ‘Allah has prepared for them a severe torment. Evil indeed is that which they used to do’. ‘They have made their oaths a screen [for their evil action]. Thus they hinder [men] from the Path of Allah, so they shall have a humiliating torment’ (58:14/16).
The hypocrites do not bear witness that La ilaha illa Huwa, only that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. God acknowledges [does not bear witness] that Muhammad is His Messenger. Only then does He proceed to bear witness that the hypocrites are liars. An examination of the wording and sequencing of the statements in the verse allows for a better understanding.

A ‘Scholar’ in Islam

I am trying to ascertain the role of clerics/scholars in the religion of Islam. Certain verses have been quoted from the Quran to legitimise their existence:

‘It is only those who have knowledge among His slaves that fear Allah. Verily, Allah is All-Mighty, Oft-Forgiving’ (35:28).
Innama yakhsha Allaha min ibadihi al ulama. Inna Allaha Azizun Ghafoorun.
The Al Ulama are mentioned here as those among God’s servants who fear Him. However, to get the complete picture we need to put this Verse in its context:
‘See you not that Allah sends down water from the sky, and We produce therewith fruits of various colours, and among mountains are streaks white and red, of varying colours and very black’ ‘And likewise of men and creatures, and cattle are of various colours. It is only those who have knowledge among His slaves that fear Allah. Allah is All-Mighty, Oft-Forgiving’ (35:27/28).
The Al Ulama here are not religious scholars but those who are proficient in the sciences of creation. The processes described in the Verses have a bearing on scientific law and not religious law. These are the learned people – Al Ulama, who would with humility venerate God’s magnificence.

‘He gives wisdom to whom He wills; and to whom He has given wisdom, is indeed given goodness in abundance. But none acknowledge except those with understanding’ (2:269).

Could our Prophet predict future events

From what I understand ‘Ghaib’ could either mean ‘Unseen’ or ‘Absent’; it mostly means ‘Unseen’. So did Prophet Muhammad have the ability to predict future events?

‘Say [O Muhammad]: I don’t tell you with me are the treasures of Allah, nor I know Al Ghaib; nor I tell you I am an angel. I but follow what is revealed to me’ (6:50). ‘Say [O Muhammad]: I possess no power over benefit or harm to myself except Allah wills. If I had the knowledge of Al Ghaib, I should have secured for myself an abundance of wealth, and no evil should have touched me’ (7:188)
Our beloved Prophet is admitting that he doesn’t have the ability to predict future events. The only knowledge in his possession is that which has been revealed to him. The knowledge of the ‘Ghaib’ is the prerogative property of the Almighty.
‘And with Him are the keys of Al Ghaib, none knows them but He. And He knows whatever there is in the land and in the sea; not a leaf falls but He knows it. There is not a grain in the darkness of the earth nor anything fresh or dry, but is written in a Clear Record’ (6:59).

When God does reveal the ‘Ghaib’ to the Prophets, it is but the Verses of the Quran – knowledge of past events that the Prophets could not have known.
‘[He Alone is] the All-Knower of Al Ghaib, and He reveals to none His Ghaib’. ‘Except to a Messenger whom He has chosen, and then He makes a band of watching guards to march before him and behind him’. ‘Till He sees that they have conveyed the Messages of their Lord. He encompasses what is with them, and He keeps count of all things’ (72:26/28).

On those occasions where God relates to Muhammad the stories of earlier Prophets, He reminds him that it is knowledge that neither he nor his people knew.
‘This is the news of Al Ghaib which We reveal to you [O Muhammad]; neither you nor your people knew it before this’ (11:49). ‘This is the news of Al Ghaib which We reveal to you [O Muhammad]. You were not with them when they arranged their plan together, and they were plotting’ (12:102).

Again, only God has absolute knowledge of the ‘Ghaib’; the only reason we know with certainty some future events is because they were revealed to the Prophets to warn and prepare us.
‘Those who disbelieve say: The Hour will not come to us. Say: Yes, by my Lord, the All-Knower of Al Ghaib, it will come to you; not even the weight of an atom of less than that or greater escapes His Knowledge, in the heavens or in the earth but it is in a Clear Book’ (34:3).

Was only our Prophet ‘Special’

I often hear Muslims say that our beloved Prophet is ‘Special’ – enjoys a rank higher than all the other Prophets. ‘And We have sent you [O Muhammad] not but as a mercy for Al Alamin’ (21:107). Does Prophet Muhammad really enjoy a ‘Special’ status; a rank above the other Prophets?

‘Say [O Muslims]: We believe in Allah and that which has been sent down to us and that which has been sent down to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes, and that which has been given to Moses and Jesus, and that which has been given to the Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and to Him we have submitted’ (2:136). ‘The Messenger believes in what has been sent down from his Lord, and [so do] the believers. Each one believes in Allah, His Angels, His Books, and His Messengers. [They Say:] We make no distinction between one another of His Messengers’ (2:285).
The Almighty says in the Quran that those who are ‘Muslim’ do not make any distinction between the Prophets.

‘Those Messengers! We preferred some of them to others; to some of them Allah spoke [directly]; others He raised to degrees [of honour]; and to Jesus, the son of Maryam, We gave evidences and supported him with the Holy Spirit’ (2:253). ‘And indeed, We have preferred some of the Prophets above others; and to David We gave the Psalms’ (17:55). ‘And We raised him [Enoch] to a high station’ (19:57). ‘Who can be better in religion than one who submits his whole self to Allah, does good, and follows the way of Abraham – a man of pure faith? And Allah did take Abraham as a Khalil’ (4:125).
God states in the Quran that He is discerning of the Prophets; He endows them with distinct abilities. This is God’s prerogative; in all such exemplifications there is no mention of Prophet Muhammad.

I don’t know if you’ve heard about the ‘Miracle’ that was performed on our beloved Prophet. Gabriel is said to have made an incision in the chest in order to cleanse the Prophet’s heart. Its validity is supposedly based on (94:1) ‘Have We not opened your breast for you [O Muhammad]’. Nashrah literally translates to ‘cut to slice’; implicit that the chest was cut open.
You had alluded to (20:14) in our discussion about As-Salah; (20:25) ‘[Moses] said: O my Lord! Ashrah for me my breast’. I just stumbled onto it whilst glancing through the other verses on the page. This ‘Miracle’ is said to have made Muhammad ‘Masoom’ [Pure and Sinless]; a rank above all the other Prophets. That just can’t be the case if Moses too has experienced the same ‘Miracle’. And further (48:2), ‘That Allah may forgive you [O Muhammad] your sins of the past and the future, and complete His favour on you and guide you on a Straight Path’.
I believe the Almighty inspired courage – broadened the chest, in order that the Prophets may fulfil the arduous task of Prophethood.