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Islam -- From Its Core Scriptures

Vinod Kumar

I am writing in response to Asghar Ali Engineer's article "The holy war within the self", The Times of India, 1 October 1997.

He writes :"Islam is all too often portrayed as a fanatical, violent religion which encourages its followers to wipe out kufr, unbelief. It is also believed that Islam incites its followers to spread the Prophet's message by the sword, and that it executes all believers who renounce that message. "

Hence the prevalent stereotype of the Muslim as a marauder with a blood-stained sword in one hand and the Koran in the other. Undoubtedly some Muslims are as responsible as non-Muslims for the prevalence of such a stereotype about Islam.

"However, no serious student of religion would take such an image of Islam and Muslims seriously. " He wrote and goes on to say: "Thus Islam is as non-violent a religion as any religion could be: the Koran repeatedly describes Allah as ``the Merciful, the Compassionate, the Forgiving''.

" Nevertheless, no religion can be understood seriously unless we return to its source, to its core scriptural teachings." He went on to write.

On one point I fully agree with Engineer and that is: " Nevertheless, no religion can be understood seriously unless we return to its source, to its core scriptural teachings."

So in fairness to Islam and to understand it rightly, let us go to its 'core scriptural teachings' and these are the Koran, the life of the Prophet and the Hadis.

Let us deal with kufr and the associated word kafir and God's 'Compassion and Mercy' and see what the Koran and the Hadis have to say about it.

Kufr is unbelief and Kafir means one who does not believe that is an unbeliever. Unbeliever in what -- God? No, unbeliever is one who does not believe in the revelations of God to the Prophet. If kafir just meant an unbeliever in God then all the pre-Islamic Arabs, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists will be believers and not kafirs. A believer or in other words a Muslim is:

"A Muslim is one who declares publicly: 'There is no God but God and Muhammad is His Prophet.' He must also accept that Muhammad is the last of God's prophets on this earth..... A Muslim must also accept the Quran as the word of God, immutable and unalterable; it contains guidelines which a Muslim must follow." (Rafiq Zakaria, "The Struggle within Islam" Penguin Books, 1988, pp.302)

Having defined kufr, kafir and a believer, let us proceed to see what the Koran has to say about these. For our purpose the terms kufr is unbelief, kafir is unbeliever or an infidel or an idolater, a Muslim is a believer. It depends which term a translator chooses to use. Similarly in the Koran, God is Allah. In order to soften the image of Islam and dilute its impact, many translators prefer to use the word God in place of Allah. In the Koran, the word Allah is used exclusively for the God who revealed the Koran. It is not to be mistaken for any other god. When the Koran refers to God, it refers specifically to Allah.

According to the Koran "The unbelievers are like beasts which, call out to them as one may, can hear nothing but a shout and a cry. Deaf, dumb and blind, they understand nothing." (2:170) and

"As for the unbelievers, it is the same whether or not you forewarn them; they will not have faith. God has set a seal upon their hearts and ears; their sight is dimmed and grievous punishment awaits them." (2:6-7)

Even though it not their fault that they are unbelievers because ' God has set a seal upon their hearts and ears; their sight is dimmed' yet 'a grievous punishment awaits them.' This is the justice of what Engineer calls "Allah as the Merciful, the Compassionate, the Forgiving". We shall see this Merciful and Compassionate nature again as we go along.

God can not stand kufr i.e. unbelief even though He is the one who set the seal upon their hearts and goes on to say: "Those who deny God's revelations shall be sternly punished; God is mighty and capable of revenge. Nothing on earth or in heaven is hidden from God." (3:5)

Koran is talking of revenge and punishment not Mercy or Compassion.

"As for the unbelievers, neither their riches nor their children will in the least save them from God's wrath. They shall become the fuel of the Fire." (3:9)

It seems Compassionate and Merciful God is full of revenge and wrath if You do not believe in His revelations. Seems he is a very insecure God. I wonder where is His benevolence and mercy?

"Those that deny our revelations We will burn in fire. No sooner will their skins be consumed than We shall give them other skins, so that they may truly taste the scourge. God is mighty and wise. (4:56)

The 'Compassionate and merciful God' seems to take great pleasure in torture of those whose hearts He himself had sealed and deny His revelations.

"It is no concern of yours whether He will forgive or punish them (meaning unbelievers). They are the wrongdoers. His is all that the heavens and the earth contain. He pardons whom He will and punishes whom He pleases. God is forgiving and merciful." (3:128-129)

It says God gives pardon or punishment 'whom He pleases' with no regard to the actions of a person -- after all God is all 'powerful, mighty, forgiving and merciful'. So really according to the Koran what a person does has nothing to do with what he will get. Because God ' pardons whom He will and punishes whom he pleases.'

The Koran gives absolutely new definition to the words 'compassion, mercy, benevolence and justice'.

Let us see what the Koran ordains its believers to do vis-a-vis an unbeliever.

"Let believers not make friends with infidels in preference to the faithful - he that does this has nothing to hope for from God - except in self-defence." (3:28)

This explains why the believers want secularism in India and Islamic rule in countries where the Muslims are in a majority. It is all matter of self defence. If the Muslims of India really believed in secularism, they would en-masse boycott the Haj in Saudi Arabia where the practice of any religion other than Islam is illegal. But unfortunately they do not do so. The above gives the explanation.

"Believers, do not choose the infidels rather than the faithful for your friends. Would you give God a clear proof against yourself." (4:145)

Clearly friendship with infidels is some kind of crime or sin which will be held against the faithful in the eyes of God. Even the friendship with the Jews and the Christians is prohibited:

"Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends. They are friends with one another. Whoever of you seeks their friendship shall become one of their number. God does not guide the wrongdoers." (5:51) and goes on to say:

"Believers do not seek the friendship of the infidels and those who were given the Book before you,...." (5:56)

The Koran goes even beyond these when it proclaims: "Believers, do not befriend your fathers or your brothers if they choose unbelief in preference to faith. Wrongdoers are those that befriend them. (9:23)

The only friendship, the Koran allows for its followers is: "Believers, do not make friends with anyone but your own people." (3:118) and "Believe in none except those that follow your own religion." (3:73)

So when a Muslim makes friends with an unbeliever, he is not being faithful to his religion unless he is doing so 'in self defence'. Let us now see how an unbeliever or an idolater should be treated in this life.

"Fight against them until idolatry is no more and God's religion reigns supreme." (2:193) "..... The unbelievers are your inveterate enemies." (4:101)

"When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way. God is forgiving and merciful. (9:5)

Naturally if they accept Islam and take to prayers; then there is no need to take any further action.

"Believers retaliation is decreed for you in bloodshed: a free man for a free man, a slave for a slave, and a female for a female." (2:178)

I hear of no compassion and forgiving -- only retaliation.

"Fighting is obligatory for you, much as you may dislike it. But you may hate a thing although it is good for you, and love a thing although it is bad for you. God knows, but you do not." (2:216)

Fighting is good for the Muslims -- the Koran declares. Not only good but obligatory.

Let us see what the Koran has to say about idolatry, other Gods and tolerance of other religions:

The God of the Koran is dead set against idolatry. It repeats again and again. "Idolatry is worse than carnage." Repeated at several places (2:191, 2:217 and many times more) But it does not stop there. There is no compromise or freedom of different kind of worship or acceptance of others' ideas. It goes on to say:

"Fight against them until idolatry is no more and God's religion reigns supreme." (2:193)

In the eyes of God of the Koran, there is no sin greater than idolatry and He is highly jealous of other gods: "God will not forgive idolatry. He will forgive whom He will all other sins. He that serves other gods besides God has strayed far indeed." (4:116) and

"God will not forgive those who serve other gods besides Him; but He will forgive whom He will for other sins. He that serves other gods besides Him is guilty of a heinous sin." (4:48)

Idolatry is the worst sin in the eyes of God and evidently God is so jealous that He can not tolerate any other god. All other sins are paltry compared to thinking or serving other god. Other religions or compassion towards others have no place in scheme of things as enumerated in the Koran;

"The only true faith in God's sight is Islam..... He that denies God's revelations should know that swift is God's reckoning." (3:19)

"He that chooses a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted from him and in the world to come he will be the one of the lost." (3:86)

So all the billions of Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and Christians are the 'one of the lost'.

What happens to those who do not believe in His revelations or turn away after believing them once:

"He will put terror into the hearts of the unbelievers. They serve other deities besides God for whom He has revealed no sanction. The Fire shall be their home; dismal indeed is the dwelling of the evil-doers. (3:151)

"Go down and hence, all,' We said. `When Our guidance is revealed those that accept it shall have nothing to fear or to regret; but those that deny and reject Our revelations shall be the heirs of Hell, and there they shall abide for ever." (2:38-39)

"Those who deny God's revelations shall be sternly punished; God is mighty and capable of revenge. Nothing on earth or in heaven is hidden from God. (3:5)

And all along we have been told that God is benevolent and Merciful, but no God is not only jealous but revengeful too.

"As for the unbelievers, neither their riches nor their children will in the least save them from God's wrath. They shall become the fuel of the Fire." (3:9)

"Those that deny our revelations We will burn in fire. No sooner will their skins be consumed than We shall give them other skins, so that they may truly taste the scourge. God is mighty and wise. (4:56)

The Koran has given new definition to the words 'Merciful and Compassionate'. God is not satisfied with burning the skins of the unbelievers once. He would give them new skins every time the old has burnt so that they may feel His scourge again and again. Some Merciful and Compassionate God!!

"Those who accept the Faith and then renounce it, who again embrace it and again deny it and grow in unbelief -- God will neither forgive them nor rightly guide them." (4:137)

God can not accept that someone can walk out on Him.

In the entire Koran there are two verses which the apologists of Islam do not tire of quoting to show the tolerant nature of Islam.

The first they quote is "There shall be no compulsion in religion" (2:256)

But this is only part of the verse. They fail to complete the verse which goes on to say: "True guidance is now distinct from error. He that renounces idol-worship and puts his faith in God shall grasp a firm handle that will never break. God hears all and knows all."

While it talks of no compulsion, though only once in the entire Koran, it still declares that the only 'true guidance is Islam' and others are 'paths of error'.

The other verse they quote is "Say; 'Unbelievers, I do not worship what you worship, nor do you worship what I worship. I shall never worship what you worship, nor will you ever worship what I worship. You have your religion, and I have mine." (109:1-6)

This verse is more of confrontational nature than accepting tolerance. "I shall never worship what you worship, nor will you ever worship what I worship" reflects disgust and frustration not tolerance or acceptance of others' religion or their point of view.

Both the above verses were 'revealed' during the earlier period of Mecca when Muhammad did not have much following. Nowhere, and I say categorically nowhere, does the Koran say: All religions are good and great. What matters is that one worships God in whatever form or shape. Let us go together and worship all the gods together.

After stating that as all Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains etc. do not follow the peaceful and tolerant teachings of their religion, Engineer goes on to write "similarly, very few Muslims practice what is laid down in the Koran."

Fortunately, that is true and thank God it is true. Otherwise after reading the Koran, one may well imagine what the conditions would be in this world if all the Muslims followed the Koran. "The concept of jihad, holy war, is often held against Islam."; Engineer goes on to write. He further states "Jihad is essentially a war for justice, not for aggression or lust for power."

Most Muslims and the Koran do not share this view.

"The Book of Jihad" in Sahih al-Bukhari, pp 34 (Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi, 1987) define jihad as "Verily 'Allah has purchased of the believers Their lives and properties; for theirs (in return) Is Paradise They fight in His cause, so they kill others and are killed It is a promise in truth which is binding on Him." (Koran 9:111)

Jihad is not fighting against oppression as Engineer would like us to believe. Jihad according to Koran is 'fighting in the Cause of Allah, for which the 'return is Paradise.' And the 'Cause of Allah' is 'to remove Kufr'.

To illustrate further, let me quote a Hadith, NO. 42 from Sahih al-Bukhari pp 35: "Narrated Ibn Abbas: Allah's Messenger said, "There is no Hijra (i.e. migration from Mecca to Medina) after the Conquest (of Mecca), but Jihad and good intention remain; and if you are called (by a Muslim ruler) for fighting, go forth immediately."

In the footnote, the translator explains the 'intentions' and I quote: "After the conquest of Mecca there was no need for Muslims to migrate from Mecca to Medina.

The Prophet tells his companions that one can attain rewards through Jihad against Kufr i.e. to fight for Allah's Cause when there is call for it otherwise one should have good intentions to participate in and this intention has the same reward as that of itself."

Also according to probably the greatest Muslim saint of this century, Ayatollah Khomeini "Holy War means the conquest of all non-Muslim territories......The final aim of which is to put the Koranic law in power from one end of the earth to the other." (The Muslim Mind, quoted from "Sayings of Ayatollah Khomeini, Bantam Book Inc., Canada and the USA pp 4)

From the 'core scriptural teachings', and also great scholars of Islam, there is no doubt that Jihad is not 'fight against oppression'. It is clearly fight against Kufr, in the 'Cause of Allah'. From the Prophet himself to all scholars of Islam can not be wrong in the understanding of Jihad.

So it is no wonder that whenever there is a call to fight against Kufr, whether it is the call of the Caliph of Baghdad for a raid on Sindh, or Mahmud of Ghazna for his annual pledge to eliminate Kufr from Hind, or Timurlang, or whether it is Afghanistan, Bosnia, Palestine, Chechnya or Kashmir, or the Bomb blasts in Bombay and New York, an army of the faithful is always available to carry on the fight in the 'Cause of Allah'.

These are the truth about Islam from its 'core scriptural teachings'.

Mr. Engineer is right. We should not believe in others' interpretations and actions -- we should go to the basics. And to the basics I have gone.

I believe The Times of India owes to itself, its readers and above all the secular nature of country's polity to present these truths about Islam to prevent people at large getting those impressions about Islam which Islam is not. In a country which proclaims "Satyameva Jayate", Satya should not be murdered.

Such articles as "The holy war within the self" makes the gullible readers into believing that Islam is what it really is not.

Unfortunately, thousand year of slavery, the massacres in 1947, the jihad in Kashmir, the Bombay blasts, all combined have left such deep wounds and terror in the hearts of the Hindus that, as long as they can survive for one more day without another wound, they care not what the truth is and what caused all those deep wounds.

Our capacity to understand and find the truth has been sapped from the marrow of our bones.

"Satyameva Jayate" is but an empty slogan. I will not classify and give labels to Islam; tolerant or non-tolerant, violent or non-violent. Let people read and find the truth for themselves.

Note: The quotations of the Koran are from "The Koran" translated by N.J.Dawood, published by Penguin Books, Fifth revised edition, 1990.

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