Birt saw it coming


I found an interesting article written by Yahya Birt, where he speaks about how the Internet has changed the way Muslims access information and what he sees as the future for Islamic material online:

A study by Nature magazine surveyed forty two corresponding articles in both and found 162 factual errors in Wikipedia and 123 in Britannica, so the difference is less than we might think. Yet Wikipedia, with greater resources of peer review, has been shown to correct itself more quickly. And it is – unlike Britannica – making the inheritance of human learning available to the world for free.

So rather than Sheikh Google, Wiki-Islam provides a better possible future for Islam online, amenable to its unchurched nature. Creative collaboration between scholars, experts, intellectuals and Muslim publics would allow for the social and intellectual process of ijma and ijtihad to become dynamic, relevant and infinitely refinable. The internet is no panacea: real-world conditions of authoritarianism in the Muslim world, the war on terror and intellectual conservatism may stymie unlocking the true potential of Wiki-Islam. But a crucial first step nonetheless to unlocking that potential is to recognize the collaborative creativity the digital age offers to the Muslim.

Our very own Quranist Matrix is an attempt at doing exactly what Yahya Birt envisaged back in 2008 🙂

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Notes on bayt and buyūt


… In houses which God permitted their raising, and therein His name is vivified…

(24/36)

A just society, one based on the guidance found in chapter 24, promotes good social organisation, interaction and laws.  In this pursuit the light mentioned in 24/35 – where God is the light of the heavens and the earth – is found in buyūt (houses) that bring to life [dhik’r] the attributes of God.  Raising these buyūt is essential to bring about the society envisioned by the Quran, as reflected in 2/189:

… it is not the righteousness that you bring the buyūt from their backs but the righteous is one who takes guard.  And bring forth the buyūt from their gates…

This bringing forth of God’s buyūt, (institutions and systems that vivify His names), is seen in the stories of several Prophets.  Musa rejected the nourishment of Firawn when he was young and was instead given wisdom and knowledge by the people of God’s bayt (28/12-14).  We then see him and his people, having escaped the Firawnic system later, focus [qib’lat] on their buyūt (10/87) in their efforts to create an islamic society.

There’s also an important contrast and relationship found in the stories of Lut and Ibrahim and their respective buyūt.  Lut’s society failed because there was uninhibited immorality and only a single bayt (51/36), and even then, it was weak (11/80).  Conversely, Ibrahim’s bayt was successful, where God’s bounty was to be witnessed (22/26-28).

There are several other verses we can draw on, but I think our ultimate goal is to raise our buyūt that vivify God’s names until our society as a whole becomes the bayt achieved by the people of Ibrahim.  A social system that is completely free from shirk, is rewarding and gives security to mankind.

Justified rage


Last night’s Newsnight on BBC2 saw Ayaan Hirsi Ali give her unique insight into the protests by Muslims we’re currently witnessing around the world today. As I listened to the insipid and predictable back and forth between the presenter Kirsty Wark and Ali, I was reminded of a recent article by Michael Muhammad Knight:

When asked to explain Muslim rage, I have an answer, but I already know the response to my answer. A defender of “Western civilization” will tell me, “Yeah, but we aren’t violent. They’re the ones who kill people over religion.” If numbers matter, however, the mythology of “America” kills many, many more people today than any myth of “Islam.” To sustain a pseudo-secular military cult, we have produced a nation of cheerleaders for blood and murder. We speak of the cult’s heroic work as “sacrifice” and say that it’s all for a divine cause of “freedom.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of those cheerleaders Knight refers to. She was on hand to tell us that Western governments should stand firm against those who are protesting and make it clear that freedom of speech will not be curbed due to Muslim sensibilities. She argued that Western leaders should not “indulge” the Muslim countries who are not at the level of Europe and America. When asked if Muslims had the right to be offended, Ali responded by saying freedom of speech included the right to offend. When pressed further about Muslims being offended, Ali was incredulous. She pointed out that the atrocities that happen daily in Muslim countries do not evoke the kind of rage being seen over the film. She claims the Muslims have no credibility when they, for example, refuse to protest over a 14 year-old girl who was recently gang-raped in Pakistan, but instead be enraged at a film made in California. Get your own house in order before you protest our art, was the basic message.

Painting them as backwards, not having the good sense to ignore a film and respect Western enlightenment and having no priorities, serves to dehumanise Muslims. It also distracts from what I think these protests are really about. Western drones patrol the skies, their tanks tend the streets and their soldiers rape and murder Muslims daily. Muslims around the world know full well that their property is not sacred, nor their livelihood, and not even their bodies. But to dishonour the Prophet is the final straw, the violation of the one thing that gives Muslims hope: their religious tradition. It’s disgusting because it demonstrates that nothing is respected; pillaging and murder isn’t enough for these thugs, they will attack the very essence of the Muslim spirit. Knight continues:

That’s what we send out there, at them. This is not simply a world in which one side has a sense of humor and the other does not, or one side is “modern” and “enlightened” while the other side needs to catch up. The modern, enlightened side is burning people alive. Innocence is simply the playground bully calling your mother a slut after already breaking your jaw, and then wondering why you can’t take a joke…But in the big picture, this isn’t really about violent religion vs. nonviolent art; it’s violence vs. violence.

I think it’s important for Muslims to represent these protests correctly and always draw attention to the underlying grievances whenever Muslims protest an insult to Islam.  It’s deeper than just an insult.

Your Tongue


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75/16 Do not agitate with your tongue to hasten therein.
75/17 Indeed, upon Us is its collection and its declaration.

I found this passage interesting because, to me, it reaffirms the idea that each individual is to ponder on the quran and formulate an opinion.  This is in contrast to the belief that there are authenticated or authorised commentaries that we should all abide by.  The key word for me is lisānaka, ‘your tongue.’  The ‘your’ is singular, meaning the verse speaks to the individual reader of the quran.  You are not to rush with your tongue regarding the quran.  Why?  Because its collective and complete interpretation, as well as its declaration to the world, is not your burden. 

In essence, take your time with it and only declare what you’ve understood. 

apostateofhadith.blogspot: a response


Jinn has written an interesting article on apostateofhadith.blogspot in response to the article on quranists.net, The Deceptive ‘Just Muslim Label’ by quranists. In honour of the quranic way, I thought I might express a few of my thoughts on his views.

“To say that Sunnis are an accurate representation of orthodox or traditional Islam is, to put it bluntly, an uneducated statement. […] You claim not to represent orthodox Islam while others, such as myself, will astutely counter that you in fact do represent orthodox Islam the moment you put serious doubt in the hadith.”

“If you wish to converse with me,” said Voltaire, “define your terms.” How Jinn defines the term “orthodox/traditional Islam” is clearly different to how it is defined in the article he criticises, such that the two are talking past each other. Whether Jinn chooses to acknowledge it or not, the word “gay” is mostly used to refer to homosexuals and is no longer used to mean what it may have originally referred to: extreme happiness. He may insist and argue that the word “gay” should not be used to refer to homosexuals and may go on to write articles rebuking people who do. And he would have every right to do this. However, I believe he would be wasting much energy in fighting the natural evolution of language. Sunni islam is based on adherence of traditions and promotes both orthodoxy and orthopraxy. When people say “orthodox/traditional Islam” they are usually referring to the Sunni flavour. So when a quranist says, I do not represent orthodox Islam, he is dissociating himself from what people would normally understand as the Sunni/Shia Islam. And we are all bound by the framework of ideas and language we live in. People who are concerned with social change see the value of having a label which accurately conveys their stance, allowing them to get to work without expending energy clarifying what it is they represent.

“the Qur’an openly refutes the entire blasted thing:
Surely they who divided their religion into parts and became sects, you have no concern with them; their affair is only with Allah, then He will inform them of what they did. ~Qur’an 6:159”

It’s a shame Jinn didn’t provide his understanding of this verse, as it is one we’ve discussed on Quranology Discussions in the past. The verse doesn’t say sects come from labels, it says sects come from “farraqū dīn”. What is dīn? Does Jinn think the label “quranist” divides the dīn? From my understanding, “dīn” means that which is obligatory upon us as upright beings, thus dividing and dropping parts of this obligatory system leads to sectarianism. It’s not clear to me how this verse refutes having a new label.

“That, and apart from the fact that God Himself has decreed only ONE title for us”

The assumption is that “muslim” is a title. The prefix “mu” before a word denotes an agent/doer of the noun/verb that follows. There are many examples of this in the quran: the one that enacts īmān (belief) is a mu’min (believer), the one that enacts ḥasanan (good) is a muḥ’sinun (good-doer), the ones who aflaḥa (succeed) are called al-muf’liḥūna (the successful ones) etc. “Muslim” must refer to the one who enacts something, or is an agent of an act, and not merely a title one wears through affiliation. That something, whatever you may believe it to be, is defined throughout the quran. This is not to say the word muslim is not also a label, as it clearly does refer to one who follows the Islamic cultural civilisation, but I would argue that this is not the way the quran uses the word.

“To say that these “quranists” are being deceptive by not waving a proverbial sign in a newcomer’s face that reads “I HATE HADITH I AM NOT A REPRESENTATIVE OF ORTHODOX ISLAM” is giving the hadith more attention than it deserves.”

But it’s not just hadith though, is it? Quranists reject many things from Sunni’ism, in particular the authority of the scholars, the legitimacy of consensus and the right to derive divine rulings. Yes, hadith is central to Sunni’ism, and a major point of contention for quranists, but to disassociate yourself from Sunni Islam is far more than just rejecting hadith. The deceptive nature of using the “just Muslim” label is that you can not claim to have an objective definition of a muslim, so you end up hiding the relevant information necessary for your audience to determine where you stand.

Remember, the quran demands that you speak plainly:

4/9 […] So let them take as a shield Allah, and let them speak words appropriate.

“Sure, he can ask questions about it, but to make it a central point of discussion is akin to telling Protestant Christians that they should be discussing the Papacy.”

Did you spot it? Deliciously ironic! No one would ask Protestant Christians to discuss the Papacy because their audience will already know they reject it. They would know this because of the word “Protestant”. If Christians who reject the Papacy were to use the “just Christians” label, they may find themselves spending much time explaining why the Bibles they carry are missing several books and other things that they would rather not waste time talking about. Including the Papacy.

Furthermore, it is clear that the author does not know the correct definition of “orthodox” in light of the Qur’an.  The Qur’an is the ONLY uncorrupted source of orthodox Islam on the planet.  To assert that “mainstream” Islam is orthodox is to confirm that their teachings are genuine when in fact, true traditional Islam is nothing like Sunni or Shia practices.

I would argue that rather than being ignorant of the quran’s attitude to orthodoxy, the author of the article is submitting to the language of the day, and seeing no point in being stubborn with labels. Mainstream Islam, regardless of what you think of it, has become what is considered in the minds of people, orthodox. And it is these people who we are having to communicate with, who we are trying to convince, and who we hope will come on board. To be stubborn in our approach to words simply leads to confusion. If someone said the words “orthodox Islam” to me, I would immediately think they were speaking of Sunni Islam, even though I’m a quranist.

Although I do sympathise with quran students who wish to “reclaim” Islamic words, jealously trying to guard the word Muslim is a fruitless endeavour. No one owns this word, and no one can, with sure confidence, say that their beliefs and actions are a correct and accurate representation of the quranic definition of a muslim. We can only try our best and express our personal interpretation of what it means to be muslim. The quran most certainly promotes freedom of thought and pluralism, so labels become a necessity if we are to have a meaningful and beneficial exchange of ideas.

“Islam is not a hat one wears. It’s an element one affects by acting in a sound manner.” – Farouk A. Peru

Need a fatwa?


Some recent discussions of Facebook reminded me of a blog entry by RP, The Concept of God in the Quran (intro):

“Well, religious individuals forbid all sorts of things – especially every-day requirements. There is no way to follow all these laws without a major heartbreaking sacrifice: the sacrifice of oneself. Everything becomes a sin. Small issues become major sins. The wars, the slavery, the patriarchy system. All these are things that can easily be justified in the name of God. People’s love for Allah can be used.”

The heartbreak is something many of us who were traditionalists would have felt at some point. One that stands out for me was deleting my entire mp3 collection! Yes, I smiled through the pain and convinced myself that this was indeed an act of piety and God may be pleased with me as a result. And I could list countless other things that secretly distressed me in the pursuit to be closer to God.

Why do people do this? Unfortunately, the slogan “Islam is a way of life” is rendered by traditionalist classical scholarship to mean that every facet of life has an “islamic ruling” to go with it. Islam is thus a universal acid, burning through everything and leaving nothing untouched. It means that scholars are on constant standby, ready to tell you the correct way to behave in any given situation. So sincere, energetic, and concerned muslims are conditioned to believe that they must search for the correct ruling for everything they do. I always found it upsetting when I’d go onto an islamic forum and find girls asking, “is it okay if I pluck my eyebrows?”, only to be met with a barrage of fatwas saying it is haram and the behaviour of a whore. Sad.

Does the quran suggest that everything in life has a ruling from Allah and His messenger? The quran is a book of finite text, so obviously it cannot contain detailed step-by-step instructions for every possible situation life throws at us. So then does it say that we should search and derive rulings for everything from the quran to be made binding upon us? I believe the issue is explicitly addressed in the following verse:

5/101 O you who believed! Do not ask about things [ashyāa], if made clear [tub’da] to you, (may) distress you [tasu’kum]. And if you ask about it when the quran descends [yunazzalu l-qur’ānu], it (will be) made clear [tub’da] to you. Allah pardoned [ʿafā l-lahu] regarding it, and Allah is oft-forgiving, forbearing.

The verse seems to condemn the prevalent culture in traditionalism of incessantly looking for rulings for absolutely everything. It is ironic then, that in their desire to be pious, traditionalists manufactured divine rulings for everything only to fail to live by all of them, thus manufacturing their own disobedience! The verse says that if you have a question that is worthy of God’s explicit instruction, He would have given a clear answer in the quran. If one reads the quran and does not find an explicit ruling/instruction, then he is left to his intellect and moral compass.

All those women who are concerned about plucking their eyebrows should take heed of this verse. Read the quran and see if Allah cares about what you do to your eyebrows. If you find He hasn’t said anything, then do not ask for a ruling, because a ruling will only cause you distress if it doesn’t match your desire. Instead, use your intellect.

The above verse also implies something else (at least to me): that nothing in the quran should cause you distress. Allah has made everything in the quran clear, which answers all of our questions needed to be moral and upright beings:

12/111 Verily there is in their stories [qasas] a lesson for people of understanding. It is not a narration [hadith] invented, but a confirmation of which was before it and a detailed explanation [tafsila] of all things [kulli shayin] and a guidance and mercy for a people who believe.

5/101 says that there are things that if made clear, may distress us. Which means that the things that have been made clear (i.e. in the quran) should not distress us. This gives credence to the quranists approach to the quran, which is to examine things that seem questionable and not entirely in-tune with our moral compass. Our innate sense of morality and the teachings of the quran should be in sync with each other.

Why does it say, “and obey His messenger”?


Kashif Ahmed Shahzada’s, The Quran’s Sole Authority, is the most comprehensive refutation of the traditionalist claim that hadith and sunnah are a requirement for islam. The work proves that the quran is the only source of divine guidance and that the messenger was bound by the message.

8/20 O you who believe! Obey Allah and His messenger and do not turn back from him while you hear.

As pointed out by Kashif Shahzada, the singular pronoun ‘him’ instead of the plural ‘us’ indicates that the obedience is one and the same. The messenger was not commanding anything different to what Allah was commanding. This is confirmed by:

4/80 Whoever obeys the messenger, he indeed obeys Allah, and whoever turns back, so We have not sent you as a keeper over them.

However, a remainder of this equation is often picked up on by opponents of the quranist position: why is the messenger mentioned at all? It is a valid question, given the argument is that obeying Allah and obeying His messenger are in fact one and the same. Is not the inclusion of the messenger then a redundant detail?

Mohammad Sheikh of IIPC in his January 2005 presentation titled Hadith, gave an explanation as to what the two obediences mean. Shaikh’s contention is that there are verses in the quran where the messenger is being commanded to proclaim something to the people, such as 2/219. These count as obeying the messenger. Other verses where Allah commands us directly is to obey Allah.

An alternative understanding is that the messenger is mentioned as a way of emphasis. Obeying the messenger is most certainly part of obeying Allah, but something in particular is being highlighted. The quran uses the word ‘and’ [wa] on occasions to highlight or emphasise a particular point.

2/238 Be guardians of your salawat, AND [wa] of salat al wusta, and stand with devotion to Allah.

The word ‘salawat’ is the plural of ‘salat’ and ‘salat al wusta’ is translated as ‘the balanced salat’. So isn’t salat al wusta (the balanced salat) part of the salawat (plural of salat)? If ‘wa’ can only mean ‘and’, then it looks like salawat is one thing, and salat al wusta is something different. Even traditional commentaries of this verse concede that the ‘wa’ in this instance does not indicate that salat al wusta is separate from salawat, but rather it provides emphasis. The verse is stressing the importance of the balanced salat.

21:48 We had given Musa and Harun al furqan, AND [wa] shining light, AND [wa] a reminder for the righteous.

Here again we see ‘wa’ being used when describing what Allah gave Musa and Harun. The verse does not seem to be suggesting the Prophets were given three separate things, but qualities and characteristics of the message they had been sent with. The repeated use of ‘wa’ helps to strengthen the idea that the guidance of Allah has different facets.

The above two examples demonstrate that the word ‘wa’ in quran is more expansive compared to the English translation ‘and’. The potential is there to use it as a means for emphasis.

With this in mind, is it possible that the ‘wa’ in the verses that say obey Allah and [wa] obey the messenger is there for emphasis? What is being emphasised, if anything?

42/51 And it is not for any human that Allah should speak to him except by revelation [wahy] or from behind a barrier [hijab] or that He sends a messenger to reveal [yuhiya], by His permission, what He wills. Indeed, He is Most High and Wise.

Three methods of communication are mentioned here: revelation, from behind a barrier, and via a messenger.

A premise we all seem to use is, obey Allah = obey quran. However, from 42/51 we are told that Allah can give commands via three different modes. When the quran says ‘obey Allah’ it must obviously include all of the aforementioned methods of communication and so obedience to Allah can potentially be more than ‘obey quran’. It can be understood that people must obey Allah’s command however it reaches them, whether that be through, for example, a personal revelation, a sudden, strong sense of morality or, of course, through verses in quran. Allah’s signs are not just in quran, but in nature and in all aspects of reality. Instruction from Him can come via different avenues. 42/51 gives us an idea of what ‘obey Allah’ can consist of.

However, the most important and consistent means of instruction from Allah is most certainly the quran. 42/51 says that Allah sends a messenger who reveals [yahiya] with His permission. What was revealed to the messenger?

42/7 And thus We have revealed [awhayna] to you a quran, flawless [arabiyyan], that you may warn the mother of towns and those around it and warn of the Day of Assembly, about which there is no doubt. A party will be in Paradise and a party in the Blaze.

42/51 and 42/7 confirm that Allah sent the messenger and revealed via him, the quran.

A different understanding comes about when now looking at those verses that say ‘obey Allah and obey His messenger’. As demonstrated by 42/51, obeying Allah includes obeying all commands received from Him via any of the various means Allah uses. When the verses add, ‘and obey the messenger’, we can see Allah is drawing attention and emphasising the most important and vital obedience necessary: obedience to what the messenger revealed i.e. quran as per 42/7.

This is of course inclusive of obeying Allah, but Allah deemed it worthy to provide clarity and emphasis in this regard. 42/51 explains why Allah doesn’t say ‘obey the message’. He refers to the messenger because messengers are the chosen form of communication for Allah.

Therefore, the understanding of the phrase is along the lines of:

Obey Allah (via all signs/instructions made apparent to you i.e. 42/51) and (specifically) obey His messenger (via the message revealed to him i.e. quran 42/7).

So we can see through examining similar structures in quran that the command to obey the messenger is to highlight the importance of obeying the revelation given to the messenger. This accounts for the remainder of the equation.