Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
If my articles are boring to you, it may be that you need to read more of them, as was suggested by John Cage, an American composer, “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”
“We created you, We gave you shape, and then We said to the angels, ‘Bow down before Adam,’ and they did. But not Iblis: he was not one of those who bowed down.” So says the Quran in the seventh chapter, describing Adam and his wife and their encounter with Iblis or the Satan, “God said, ‘What prevented you from bowing down as I commanded you?’ and he said, ‘I am better than him: You created me from ﬁre and him from clay.’ God said, ‘Get down from here! This is no place for your arrogance. Get out! You are contemptible!’ but Iblis said,‘Give me respite until the Day people are raised from the dead,’ and God replied, ‘You have respite.’ And then Iblis said, ‘Because You have put me in the wrong, I will lie in wait for them all on Your straight path: I will come at them–– from their front and their back, from their right and their left–– and You will ﬁnd that most of them are ungrateful.’ God said, ‘Get out! You are disgraced and banished! I swear I shall ﬁll Hell with you and all who follow you! But you and your wife, Adam, live in the Garden. Both of you eat whatever you like, but do not go near this tree or you will become wrongdoers.’ Satan whispered to them so as to expose their nakedness, which had been hidden from them: he said, ‘Your Lord only forbade you this tree to prevent you becoming angels or immortals,’ and he swore to them, ‘I am giving you sincere advice’– – he lured them with lies. Their nakedness became exposed to them when they had eaten from the tree: they began to put together leaves from the Garden to cover themselves. Their Lord called to them, ‘Did I not forbid you to approach that tree? Did I not warn you that Satan was your sworn enemy?’ They replied, ‘Our Lord, we have wronged our souls: if You do not forgive us and have mercy, we shall be lost.’ He said,‘All of you get out! You are each other’s enemies. On earth you will have a place to stay and livelihood–– for a time.’ He said, ‘There you will live; there you will die; from there you will be brought out.’” (Al Quran 7:11-25; translation by M Abdel Haleem)
For thirteen centuries these verses were written in stone and all the Muslim commentators read a creation story of Adam in these verses, in literal terms. For some well read Muslims in the last few decades, who understand Darwin’s theory of evolution and its proofs that have piled up in the twentieth century, these verses are now written on paper and they read them metaphorically. But, even today for a large number of Muslims, including conservative scholars and commentators, shall we say with dogmatic thinking, these verses are still inscribed on stone and they refuse to learn or appreciate the mounting evidence to show that all life forms on the planet earth are related to each other and came from common ancestors.
In the military and political scene of the seventh century Arabia, God ordained for the prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him: “Fight those of the People of the Book who do not [truly] believe in God and the Last Day, who do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden, who do not obey the rule of justice, until they pay the Jizya, a tax, and agree to submit.” (Al Quran 9:29) Now, every sensible Muslim realizes that the socio-political scene and military strengths have changed in very dramatic ways in the last 14 centuries and I don’t know of any Muslim individual, group or sect, at least not personally, who is trying to put this verse into practice, in a reading like it was read in the seventh century Arabia. Muslims are able to feel and see the changing times and none of them are keen to impose Jizya on Europe, Australia, USA, Canada or Israel. But, when it comes to human rights and women rights many refuse to acknowledge any difference between seventh century Arabia and the 21st century global village.
Read on and in the words of Sir Francis Bacon, “Read not to contradict … but to weigh and consider.”
Each student, scholar and sect of Islam fossilizes different verses of the Quran, while understanding others in a more progressive reading. This helps them to shift the blame of the sectarian differences to God, rather than taking responsibility of their own myopia and shortsightedness. This attitude of dogmatic thinking not only divides the Muslims but also sets them up against their non-Muslim neighbors. It allowed Indonesia to send a popular Christian Governor of Jakarta, Ahok to jail for two years, for trumped up blasphemy charges. Suggested reading: The Quran Only Means What Our Wisdom and Intentions Dictate: A Progressive Understanding.
Every Muslim scholar worth anything, today recognizes that the Quranic verses about slavery and concubines don’t have any present day application due to lack of relevant circumstances. We do know, however, that this enlightenment has not reached ISIS. Suggested reading: A Sexual Offender from ISIS: Is the Quran to Blame?
But, when it comes to rape victims, many of these same scholars of Islam, insist on four eye witnesses and discard DNA evidence. They fail to see that times have changed. They fail to see that as far as the verses applicable to rape are concerned, the Quran is written on paper and not on stone.
Addressing the seventh century Arabs, the Quran inspired to study biology and said: “Do they not look at the Camels, how they are made?” (Al Quran 88:17) If the verse is written on paper, today we can read it as: Do they not look at the kangaroos, how they are made? Do they not look at the viruses under the microscope, how they are made? or Do they not look at the bissons, how they are made? In so doing we will be fulfilling a repeated injunction of God to study nature and find the Creator God, a study that will lead us to not only a belief in Personal God of the Abrahamic faiths, but also Afterlife: “Allah is He Who raised up the heavens without any pillars that you can see. Then He settled Himself on the Throne. And He pressed the sun and the moon into service: each pursues its course until an appointed term. He regulates it all. He clearly explains the Signs, that you may have a firm belief in the meeting with your Lord.” (Al Quran 13:2)
I believe the only verses that are written in stone are about Monotheism, Afterlife and compassionate living and the constant reminder in the Quran to create a just and loving society. With this liberated understanding it is so much easier for me to see through the differences between different sects and struggle of each Muslim country with human and women rights and the blasphemy laws. It allows me to see all Muslims as fellow brothers and sisters and minimize the sectarian differences and try to stick to the prophet Muhammad’s injunction: “The similitude of believers in regard to mutual love, affection, fellow-feeling is that of one body; when any limb of it aches, the whole body aches, because of sleeplessness and fever.” [Muslim]
— TheMuslimTimes (@TheMuslimTimes2) July 17, 2017
Scope, Style and Preservation of the Quran
- The Scope, Style and Effect of the Holy Quran
- The History of the Qur’anic Text: From Revelation to Compilation
- Sources or Criteria for Interpretation of the Holy Quran
- The Quran Gives Principles of Justice, But No Judicial System
- The Quran Only Means What Our Wisdom and Intentions Dictate: A Progressive Understanding
- The Holy Quran and the Seventh Century Arabian Metaphors
- Is God Alive or Dead: A Metaphor for the Scriptures from the US Constitution?
- God Is Living, So Why Does Religion Treat God As Dead?
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