Now the Muslim dilemma: The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath


The Sabbath is the holy day in Judaism, which was moved to Sunday by the Catholic Church and the holy day in Islam is Friday

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

After the top constitutional body on Islamic laws in Pakistan recommended ‘a light beating for women’ sparking outrage, the body’s chairman softened his tone stating ‘violence’ is not permissible in the religion.

“Do not try to relate our proposal (on beating women) with violence. Light beating does not mean violence,” explained Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) Chairman Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani after a press briefing in Islamabad.

CII proposes husbands be allowed to ‘lightly beat’ defying wives.

“The issue has been blown totally out of proportions. Everyone condemns violence. People need to be educated to stay away from violence.”

He added that both men and women should refrain from inflicting physical violence on one another. But the CII chief did not back down on the council’s recommendations that ‘light beating’ of wives was permissible.

“If you want her (a wife) to mend her ways, you should first advise her,” Maulana Sherani explained to The Express Tribune after his press conference. “If she refuses, stop talking to her. Still if she does not show compliance, stop sharing a bed with her, and if things do not change, get a bit strict.”

Maulana Sherani went on to detail what he meant by ‘beating’. “Hit her with light things like handkerchief, a hat or a turban, but do not hit her on the face or private parts. And the beating should not cause any kind of physical damage or even scratches. Resort to light stuff, nothing serious.”

Maulana has been ridiculed thoroughly, since he made news on the issue of gentle domestic violence, in the print and social media. In insisting on literal understanding of a Quranic verse and not accepting that this is an age of human and women rights and that every verse of the Holy Quran should be understood in the context of time and space, he has also brought ridicule on Islam, in the eyes of the non-Muslims.


While the readers through out our global village were digesting this suggestion of mild domestic violence, a far more violent news hit CNN and international readers.

A young Pakistani woman was still breathing when police say her mother and brother set her on fire for eloping against their wishes, CNN affiliate Geo News reported.

Zeenat Rafique secretly dated her husband for years before marrying him.

An autopsy report said that Zeenat Rafique, 18, had traces of smoke in her respiratory tract, indicating she was alive when she was set ablaze.

Rafique had also been strangled, the autopsy said, according to Geo News.

The young woman was laid to rest a day later by her tearful husband, 19-year-old Hassan Khan.

The perpetrators of honor killing perhaps were emboldened by the provision in Islam that young women should be married only after a blessing from their guardians, even though it is not mentioned in the Holy Quran.

But, such potential conflict between rigid understanding of theology and compassionate human needs is not new.

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-27)

Jesus emphasized that religious teachings are there to help the mankind and the converse that man is made to serve the religious dogma is not true.

What he was saying, when translated into modern lingo, would state that human rights take precedence over religious dogma or religious hierarchy.

Unlike the prior silent condoning of honor killings by the ulema, the so called scholars of Islam, during the previous decades and centuries, after the tragic murder of Zeenat Rafique, as it hit the international news media, the scholars saw the light of the day.

Senior clerics in Pakistan issued a fatwa against honor killings after a string of murders and attacks on women, including Zeenat Rafiq, 18.

The Sunni Ittehad Council said that such killings were unethical and unjustifiable. Mufti Saeed Rizvi, its leader in Punjab province, said that women should be free to marry. “The killing done to the innocent Zeenat is a great sin that must be stopped by the state at any cost,” he said. The fatwa demanded tougher punishments for killers.

The holy Quran stresses that righteousness is not in precise observance of the rituals or rules, but in acts of compassion and kindness.  It says that the litmus test for true belief and genuine worship is that it leads to compassionate living:

It is not righteousness that you turn your faces to the East or the West, but truly righteous is he who believes in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Book and the Prophets, and spends his money for love of Him, on the kindred and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and those who ask for charity, and for ransoming the captives; and who observes Prayer and pays the Zakat; and those who fulfill their promise when they have made one, and the patient in poverty and afflictions and the steadfast in time of war; it is these who have proved truthful and it is these who are the God-fearing.  (Al Quran 2:178)

Sexual slavery is being enacted by ISIS, against Yazidi and other non-Muslim women, who base it on their literal and out of place and time understanding of some of the verses of the holy Quran, for example, 4:4, 4:25, 4:26, 33:51, 33:53 and 24:32.

None of the main stream Muslims want to read these verses as ISIS is reading them today or as historically the Muslims read them in the seventh and early centuries, when the non-Muslims were taking the captive Muslim women as concubines. But, as today this practice is universally condemned and the Muslim women are not treated in this fashion, there is no reason for the Muslims to practice this remnant of slavery, which was allowed only as a deterrent measure and not a universal lasting principle.

Most of us choose, which verses we are not going to take literally and understand in a metaphorical sense and interpret in the context of other verses and present day circumstances.

While ISIS reads sexual slavery in the Quranic verses 4:4, 4:25, 4:26, 33:51, 33:53 and 24:32 the moderate Muslims like myself do not. We, however, do understand that ISIS’s reading may have been reasonable and applicable if the context was different, like the non-Muslim armies making captured Muslim women their concubines.  The good news is that a very large majority of humanity has grown beyond these draconian practices of the medieval times, except for the myopic ISIS.

But, those who seem to have some vested interest in historic rules, be they religious or secular, want to continue the old ways and ancient paradigms.

Muslim women’s rights collectives in India have long been campaigning against the practices of instant triple talaq (divorce), polygamy and nikaah–halala in India. Two Supreme Court cases by Shayara Bano and Aafreen Rahman against triple talaq (Bano’s petition also challenges polygamy and halala) have renewed calls to reform Muslim personal law in the country. Representatives of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) recently called for Muslim men to actively organize for gender just reform and against practices like triple talaq .

But, Bano’s petition is being opposed in the Supreme Court by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), which claims that Muslim personal law is ‘divine’ and thus cannot be changed. The board has ignored arguments that several other Islamic countries have already banned these practices.

In this age of information, lay people are taking the initiative and there is greater democratization of power and knowledge and the ground is shifting from under the feet of the so called ulema.

On June 8, hundreds of Muslim men responded to the call by BMMA. In a statement issued to the press, 227 signatories from all over India (and a few based outside the country) said:

We, the undersigned, believe that gender equality and justice are human rights issues which must be as much a matter of concern for men as for women. If anything, it is more so men’s obligation to cry a halt to patriarchy, particularly when it is sought to be perpetuated in the name of God. We therefore fully support the campaign launched by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) and other Muslim organizations and individuals for the abolition, and declaration as illegal, of triple talaq (instant divorce) and nikaah-halala as being practiced in India. We salute BMMA for its initiative in collecting 50,000 signatures from across the country in support of their demand, as also the Muslim women victims of instant divorce who are seeking justice from the Supreme Court of India.

BMMA has even documented some cases where qazis (judges of Sharia courts) not only justify and legitimize nikaah-halala, but even offer their own “services” as temporary husbands. What could be more disgraceful than this?

The least we expect from the ulema who have proved themselves unwilling and incapable of ending the shameful, anti-women practices of instant divorce and nikaah-halala is to stop perpetuating patriarchy in the name of religion.

The word ulema is supposed to mean a body of Muslim scholars who are recognized as having specialist knowledge of Islamic sacred law and theology. BMMA demanded that the ulema in India live up to that definition.

Lay people are speaking out for human rights and enlightenment and the established religious hierarchy is still defending their religious dogma and their monopoly over understanding of theology.

zafrullah khan

Sir Zafrullah Khan

If we read the Quran as a dynamic and a living book, it offers new solutions to the contemporary issues. Sir Zafrullah Khan the first Foreign Minister of Pakistan, who also served as President of United Nations Generally Assembly from 1962–63 and President of the International Court of Justice from 1970 to 1973, explains, in his book, Islam – Its meaning for the modern man:

It is this comprehensiveness of the Quran, the need to make provision for guidance in every respect for all peoples for all time, that made it necessary that the guidance should be conveyed in verbal revelation. The Quran is literally the Word of God and possesses the quality of being alive, as the universe is alive. It is not possible to set forth at any time the whole meaning and interpretation of the Quran or, indeed, of any portion of it with finality. It yields new truths and fresh guidance in every age and at every level. It is a standing and perpetual miracle (18:110).

The world is dynamic and so is the Quran. Indeed, so dynamic is the Quran that it has always been found to keep ahead of the world and never to lag behind it. However fast the pace at which the pattern of human life may change and progress, the Quran always yields, and will go on yielding, the needed guidance in advance. This has now been demonstrated through more than thirteen centuries, and that is a guarantee that it will continue to be demonstrated through the ages.

The Quran has proclaimed that falsehood will never overtake it. All research into the past and every discovery and invention in the future will affirm its truth (41:43). The Quran speaks at every level; it seeks to reach every type of understanding, through parables, similitudes, arguments, reasoning, the observation and study of the phenomena of nature, and the natural, moral, and spiritual laws (18:55; 39:28; 59:22).

We need to constantly evaluate if any teaching that we attribute  to our religion is continuing to serve any utilitarian function, for the benefit of humanity, in present time and context. Many of the teachings of religion, be it Judaism, Christianity or Islam, were meant for limited time and limited space and today serve no useful function if applied literally to our global village in the 21st century.

A simple example is that each of these three religions allowed slavery in the limited context and it is mentioned in some detail in the Bible and the Quran; yet no apologist for these Abrahamic faiths would ever think of applying those verses to the present day and age. If anyone is cruel or foolish enough to do that he or she  will be bracketed with ISIS, who have recreated sexual slavery in this age and attributed it to their misinterpretation of the Quran.

If we remember the golden words of Jesus, may peace be on him, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, we are very likely to stay on the right track.

The Quranic teachings are meant to be of utilitarian value and of lasting benefit to the human societies, as it says:

Allah sends down water from the sky, so that valleys flow according to their measure, and the flood bears on its surface swelling foam. And from that which they heat in the fire, seeking to make ornaments or utensils, comes out a foam similar to it. Thus does Allah illustrate truth and falsehood. Now, as to the foam, it goes away as rubbish, but as to that which benefits men, it stays on the earth. Thus does Allah set forth parables. (Al Quran 13:18)

Allah says that whatever is of benefit to mankind is given permanence, stressing that benefit for mankind is the over riding criterion for understanding any divine message. But, fundamentalists with a literal streak, by insisting on principles of temporary significance at the wrong time in history, create suffering in human societies.

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