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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Muqaddimah (13): Fundamental Teachings of the Qur’ān

The Qur’ānic teachings can be divided into two major categories, beliefs and practices.
Practices are further divided in three sub-categories: personal, familial and social.
Similarly the beliefs can also be divided in three sub-categories: unicity of God, prophethood and accountability in the afterlife along with the line of arguments for each.
Practices include 1) ṣalāh (the prayer) and it cognate ḥajj (pilgrimage); 2) zakāh and its branch ṣawm (fasting); 3) good moral behavior, which consists of doing pious acts, adhering to good norms and avoiding munkar(the evil), its opposite; 4) witnessing to the truth; 5) upholding justice and equity and 6) helping God and His cause. The first four practices are personal in nature even when they are carried out communally.
The issues of free will and predetermination, and waḥdat al-wujūd (concept of unity of being or pantheism) are directly related to and come under tawḥīd(unicity of God). Concept of intercession comes under tawḥīd and prophethood. Belief in resurrection covers the concepts of reward and punishment, and Heaven and Hell.
Laws of inheritance, marriage contracts and the related issue and other social affairs fall under the heading of upholding justice and fairness.
Helping the cause of Allah includes establishing the institution of khilāfah, political cannon of Islam, and Jihād.
Another fact that needs to be mentioned is that all the practices are rooted in ethics. Love, commitment, perseverance, patience, God-consciousness, justice and fairness are values which engender good acts taught by Islam.
Many of the above mentioned beliefs and practices are mutually interwoven and rooted in one another. Some of these teachings of the Book of God require detail. I will explain my understanding of how the Holy Qur’ān treats them. 

Many of the commentator of the Qur’ān among the earlier generations held that the verse of fighting repeals many Qur’ānic verses which enjoin wise counsel and exhortations to the non-believers and the polytheists.[1]Contrarily, some theologians of our time view that the verse did not abrogate the directives of good will. Islam only permits defensive war, they maintain. All the battles the Holy Prophet (sws) fought were defensive in nature. They were not initiated by the Messenger himself. The wars fought by the Successors of the Holy Prophet (sws) can therefore be best termed monarchical aggressions. They can no way be termed Jihād.
I believe that both of these views are untenable. The truth is quite the contrary. God sent the Prophet Muhammad (sws) in fulfillment of the promise He contracted with Abraham. The Prophet Muhammad (sws) was thus burdened with the responsibility put on Abraham as mentioned in the following verse:

وَعَهِدْنَا إِلَى إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ أَن طَهِّرَا بَيْتِيَ لِلطَّائِفِينَ وَالْعَاكِفِينَ وَالرُّكَّعِ السُّجُودِ
We enjoined Abraham and Ishmael to keep our House clean for those who circumambulate it, use it as a retreat, and kneel and prostrate themselves. (2:125)

It needs to be appreciated that the Prophet Muhammad (sws) was the last Prophet of God. The religion he taught had to reign supreme over all other religions. In order to fulfill this divine scheme, the Prophet was first directed to preach the religion of God to the people around him so that they might adopt his teachings and improve their religious and moral behavior. He was not allowed to wage war until he had explained his message fully and had established the veracity of the religion of God to the extent that no one was left with a valid excuse to reject it. It was only when the Prophet (sws) had fulfilled this duty of preaching and explaining the religion of God that he was commanded to liberate the house of God, the Ka‘bah from the hold of the polytheists, and to revive the religion of Abraham in peninsular Arabia. He was allowed to use force if needed for the fulfillment of this objective. This permission of use of force, it must be noted, was granted after he had migrated to Madīnah. This point is important to consider, because, Jihād, before migration, unless it is in self-defense, undoubtedly becomes a form of coercion and nuisance in the land. Jihād was, therefore, not required only in self defense rather the Almighty commanded fighting for the cause of liberating the house of God from the polytheistic powers and reviving the religion of Abraham in Arabia.
This Jihād, as is obvious, was to be launched against the children of Ishmael. The other nations whom the Muslims fought were subjected to similar use of force in order to establish justice and uproot iniquity and oppression from the earth. The People of the Book and, with them, other nations were left with a choice to adopt any religion they wanted. They were free to follow any other religion but they had to pay jizyah (tax). The Ismaelites were, however, not left with any such choice. They had to choose between embracing the religion of God and death. This, it should be reiterated, was enforced after the truth was unveiled to them in its ultimate form and they were left with no legitimate excuse to reject it. Truth was explained to them in this manner by an individual from among themselves. The Prophet (sws) was their own heart and tongue. He was not an alien imposed from the outside over them. He was a sound exuberant tree rising in the middle of their natural grove of palms. He was born among them; grown clean in the same environment. He assimilated all the good that which the environment offered and shunned all the evil it was marred with. He was like pure oil ready to bun up even if not touched by the fire. He was hub of their qualities, a criterion for them to choose from good and evil, and a firm heart to help decide upon the serious affairs. By guiding him to the truth, the Almighty Allah in fact made the entire ummah of the Holy Prophet (sws) of which he was a miniature, and for which he occupied the stead of a heart, to submit before Him. Once the heart surrenders all the limbs of the body have to submit with it. This issue will further be elaborated upon under the discussion on prophethood.
Considering the issue in another approach brings us to the same conclusion i.e. Arabs of the time were required to accept his call. The Quraysh were the religious leaders of the Arabs. The family of Muṭṭalib held the seat of leadership among the Quraysh. The right then naturally accrued to the Prophet Muhammad (sws), a member of the family. Hence the Prophet’s (sws) saying:

أنا النـبي لاكذب
أنا ابن عبد المطلب
I am son of Abdul Muṭṭalib. I am a prophet not an imposter.[2]

He was calling the Arabs to the millah (religion) of Abraham, which they already acknowledged. He was calling people to fulfill the contract God had sworn to Abraham. They had no point to reject him. In this perspective whatever he preached was right. The rejecters and the opponents of this call were the ones who rebelled and who created nuisance in the land.
Jihād is basically launched against oppression and nuisance. Those who take up arms for this purpose must cleanse themselves of this evil first of all. They must not bear even a trace of such hideous crimes. Unless a ruler, who intends to launch Jihād, and his subject themselves, do not follow justice and fairness they have no right to force others observe these values. Islamic Sharī‘ah does not allow us to wage war against our own rulers. If such an operation is deemed indispensable one has to first migrate to some other land and launch the offensive after having settled there. The story of Abraham and some other details regarding ḥijrah (migration in the cause of God) make this fact clear. This is further corroborated by the events of the life history of the Prophet Muhammad (sws). The reason for this is that Jihād, if not conducted by a sovereign power with full administrative control of the country on the offensive, is mere disruption and nuisance. It adds but to chaos and disorder in the land.
Jihād may not be waged until after this sovereign entity has acquired enough power to launch a successful offensive. The story of Prophet Shu‘ayb in the Holy Qur’ān contains arguments for this.

وَإِن كَانَ طَآئِفَةٌ مِّنكُمْ آمَنُواْ بِالَّذِي أُرْسِلْتُ بِهِ وَطَآئِفَةٌ لَّمْ يْؤْمِنُواْ فَاصْبِرُواْ حَتَّى يَحْكُمَ اللّهُ بَيْنَنَا
If a party among you has believed in the message I have been sent with, while another has disbelieved, then be patient until God shall judge between us. (7:87)

With the above mentioned conditions, all three fulfilled, Jihād becomes an obligations on Muslims till the Day of Judgment. The religion of God does not allow coercing people in religious matters and creating disorder in the land. But testifying to the truth, propagating it and entering into a dialogue with the opponents in a wise and effective manner is a universal obligation.

Ma‘rūf and Munkar: Good and Evil

The Qur’ānic term ma‘rūf refers to what was welcomed as virtuous by the Arabs of the time of the Prophet (sws) and its opposite munkar signifies what they detested as evil. The Arabs of pre-Islamic age were not animals living in a jungle destitute of any sense of good and evil. Their literature outshines the literature produced by the Romans and the Indians in their most enlightened periods. To have an unbiased understanding of what good moral values the Arabs cherished one has to make an impartial study of their literature. We must discard the wrongs of those of the Muslim historians who have transgressed against history and have depicted a very cruel picture of the Arabs of the time. The importance the pre-Islamic Arabia attached to moral values and moral uprightness in a person, is best depicted in the fact that they gave ’Imr al-Qays, a king poet, owing to obvious elements of inciting drunkenness and lewdness in his poetry, the appellation of al-malik al ḍalīl (the errant king) in spite of his status as a great poet and chief of his tribe. 
At this point I intend to present some specimen of their poetry in an appendix,[3] to make it clear that they recognized as good and virtuous what is universally recognized as such. The Holy Qur’ān only complemented their moral values; it did not fundamentally change them. This is the reason the virtuous among them were immediately attracted to the Holy Qur’ān. The opponents of the Messenger were two kinds, evil, recalcitrant factions of the society and the ones who saw him threatening their political and religious leadership. Just as the Jews, owing to the obstinacy and envy for Jesus, opposed him, Umayyah bin Abī al-Sallaṭ and the like obstinately opposed the Prophet Muhammad (sws) even though they claimed that they followed the creed of Abraham.
Another source of determining ma‘rūf and munkar is the pure soul of the person of the Prophet (sws) who, by the dint of his position as a divine guide, clarifies to the followers the status of the issues not dealt with in the divine revelation. This is part of his duty as a messenger and prophet. God commands him to teach people the ma‘rūf and to stop them form munkar. His ummah is required to follow whatever ma‘rūf he commands them and refrain from whatever munkar he forbids them. Remnants of the earlier revelations also served as a guide. Examples of such remnants of the Sharīah of Abraham include ḥajj, ritual sacrifice and ṣalāh. These practices were not introduced by the People of the Book in the pre-Islamic Arabia.[4]
Another worth considering point is that, in the beginning, the Almighty Allah did not reveal the specifics and details of the religious practices. Only well-known and established religious teachings were required to be followed for example ṣalāh, zakāh, remembering God, showing compassion to orphans and maintaining excellent moral behavior. However, once details of a prescribed matter were revealed, this fresh divine guidance assumed the status of original source in that particular matter and the previous concept of ma‘rūf was abandoned.
Sometimes the Almighty commanded to follow ma‘rūf in a particular matter. Later on some part of that particular matter was detailed in a fresh revelation. The part this divine explanation covered was then to be followed abandoning the previous concept of ma‘rūf in that regard. The rest, which the revelation did not take up, was still governed by the previous concept of ma‘rūf.  The example of a matter partly qualified by the divine revelation and partly by the existing concept of ma‘rūf is the case of bequeathing wealth to parents and other relations. The right to leave a will in favor of one’s parents was later on abrogated, whereas one could still leave testamentary will in favor of the relations which have not been granted any share in the fresh ruling.
The principle guidance in this regard can be reduced to the fact that the details and applications of matters, which human intellect can penetrate and come to the right conclusion, have been left to the prevailing human concepts of ma‘rūf. Had the Almighty revealed such cumbersome details where human intellect suffices as a guide it would have caused the God-consciousness and virtue of the people to fade and die out.  Therefore, in many verses such matters have been left upon the human intellect to decide. Thus by establishing the existent concepts of ma‘rūf and exhorting the adherents of the faith upon following it, the Holy Prophet (sws) has indeed added to the respect commanded by the national laws and good customs of the society. He did not aim at revolutionizing the society and toppling the existing setup. He, rather, adopted the method of gradual improvement, complementing the existing concepts of good and virtue. This is because he had to confirm the previous religious traditions in a specific way and to remove what wrong and unfounded things were mixed with them. He purified the religion of all human manipulations and got the people on the highway of God’s guidance, initially implanted in human nature (fiṭrah).

[1]. Reference is towards the Holy Qur’ān2:190-94.
[2]. Bukhārī, No: 2709
[3]. Imām Farāhī could not include the referred to discussion to these introductions. He has, however, alluded to some useful facts in some of his other works especially in Jamharah al-Balāghah (A Manual of Rhetoric), (al-Dāirah al-Ḥamīdiyyah, A‘zamgarh, India). (Iṣlāḥī)
[4]. Seyed Aḥmad Khān has wrongly concluded that, prior to the advent of Islam, the Arabs borrowed their religious ideals from the Jews, and Islam itself, received most of the religious contents from them, for, he believers, the religion of Abraham did not survive till then except for concept of Tawḥīd and the practice of circumcision and leaving the beard grow. (Author)