20 January 2011
The following questions have been sent to me from numerous individuals in response to my rant entitled, “Letter to a Would-be Mujahid.” Hopefully, these responses, some of which are quite lengthy will help clarify issues that are causing a lot of confusion for many of our young brothers and sisters.
Question: Your nonviolence will deny Muslims the right to defend their homelands and repulse invaders.
Answer: I definitely advocate nonviolence for Muslims living in the pluralistic societies of the West. This is a fundamental Islamic responsibility. However, Muslims in Muslim majority countries have every right to defend their lands, resources, homes and families, if their political and religious leaders deem such a defense to be in their best interest. The issue I have been discussing is not the universally-recognized right of self-defense, which is applicable for Muslims and all other people. I am arguing against the mass murder of civilians being part of Islam. It is morally wrong and strategically counterproductive. Any credible strategic gains made by Muslims in recent history have been accomplished by popular resistance, not by vigilante murderers or mercenary killers.
Question: Why are you trying to convince me to abandon jihad by your intellectual arguments when the literal meaning of the Qur’an is clear in terms of the incumbency of slaying the kuffar wherever they are found?
Answer: I think the most important issue to clarify in this question is the use of intellect. The issue of “slaying the kuffar wherever you find them” will be dealt with in the context of answering a subsequent question. The Qur’an itself calls to the use one’s intellect. This is true at the very beginning when one enters into Islam. Allah states, “There is no compulsion in religion, truth clearly distinguishes itself from error…” (2:256). Ibn Kathir says concerning this verse:
The Most High says, “There is no compulsion in religion…” That means you cannot force anyone to enter the religion of Islam, for it is evident and clear. Its evidences and proofs are discernable such that it does not require that anyone be forced to enter into it. Rather, whosoever Allah guides with Islam, opens his breast, and illuminates his inner vision; he enters the religion on the basis of clarity. [Conversely,] whosoever finds his heart rendered blind by Allah, his hearing and vision sealed; there is no benefit to him entering Islam by force and compulsion. They mention that the occasion of revelation for this verse concerns a group of the Ansar, even though its ruling is general.
The evidences and proofs that Ibn Kathir refers to cannot be grasped without sound intellect, which is why all Muslim scholars consider a person who lacks control of his or her mental faculties to not be religiously responsible (ghayr mukallaf). The position the scholars take on this issue is based on the Hadith of the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him, “The pen is lifted from three: the insane until he regains his sanity; the child until he attains to puberty; and the sleeper until he wakes up” (Abu Dawud, 4403, Ibn Majah, 2041).
The Qur’an further states, concerning reason, intellect, reflection, contemplation and related concepts, “Do they not reflect on the Qur’an? If it had it been from other than Allah they would have found therein many divergent views” (4:82). Ibn Kathir comments on this verse with the following words:
The Most High orders them to reflect on the Qur’an, forbids them from turning away from it and from its unambiguous meanings and clear expressions, and informs them that there are no divergent views, inconsistencies or contradictions in it. [This is] because it is a revelation from the Mighty and Praiseworthy. Thus it is a truth from The Truth. For this reason He says, “Do they not reflect on the Qur’an? Rather, their hearts are sealed up” (47:24).
He then says:
Had it been from other than Allah they would have found therein many divergent views.” Meaning, were it manmade or fabricated, as the ignoramuses among the idolaters and the hypocrites claim during their secret councils, they would have found much divergence in it –namely many inconsistencies and contradictions. However, this [scripture] is safe from divergent views, because it is from Allah.
How are divergent views, inconsistencies and contradictions known if not through contemplation and reflection which are rooted in reason? The following verse should make the role of intellect in understanding Islam clearer. Allah mentions in the Qur’an:
It is He who has revealed unto you the Scripture. In it are unambiguous verses, they are the foundation of the Scripture. Others are ambiguous. As for those harboring deviance in their hearts, they pursue what is ambiguous, seeking discord and desiring its interpretation. No one knows it interpretation except Allah. Those firmly established on knowledge say, “We believe in it, it is all from our Lord.” None will be admonished except those possessing sound intellects (3:7).
Unlike verses that call for reflection on the wonders of Allah’s creation, this verse deals with a specific theological issue. Fully grasping that issue requires a sound intellect. Ibn Kathir comments on the phrase, “None will be admonished except those possessing sound intellects…,” by saying, “Only those possessing sound intellects and upstanding powers of discernment understand, intelligently grasp and comprehend meanings accurately.” I have noted what Ibn Kathir mentions in this regard because he is considered a conservative exegete not known for relying on reason and intellect in explaining the Qur’anic text.
Fakhruddin al-Razi is even more explicit in supporting the role of intellect in understanding the message of the Qur’an. He says concerning the phrase, “None will be admonished except those possessing sound intellects” (3:7):
This is praise from Allah Most High for those who said, “We believe in it.” It means: None will be admonished by what the Qur’an conveys except those with mature intellects. This expression has become an indication that they use their intellects to understand the Qur’an.
Our Prophet, blessing and peace of Allah upon him, mentioned, “Whoever Allah desires good for, He gives him a sound understanding of the religion…” (Bukhari, 71; Muslim, 1037). Understanding is critical to attaining to the truth of this religion. One lacking understanding will be doomed to misguide both others and himself, which the Prophet, peace upon him, mentioned as the condition that will result when the scholars are taken away:
Allah does not suddenly remove knowledge by snatching it away from the servants. Rather, He removes it by taking away the scholars until not a single scholar remains. The people then take ignoramuses as their leaders. They are asked [questions] and respond without knowledge. They are astray and they lead others astray (Bukhari, 100).
Uncritical literalism has contributed to transforming jihad from a means to obtain interests that are countenanced by the Divine Law into an end in and of itself. In the words of one of the leading theoreticians of the jihad movement, Abdul Salaam Faraj, it is the Missing Obligation (al-Farida al-Gha’iba). This transformation has led many to believe that they have to fight regardless of the consequences, whether the interests of the Ummah are advanced or set back by their fighting.
The Prophet, peace and blessings upon him, has indicated that jihad is not an end in and of itself. In fact, it can be undertaken for the wrong reasons. An example of this is found in the hadith of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari: He mentions the following incident:
The Messenger of Allah was asked about a man who fought to display his courage; one who fought motivated by tribal fervor; another to show off, which of those was in the Way of Allah? The Messenger of Allah, blessings and peace upon him, responded, “The one who fought in order that the Word of Allah be uppermost, that is in the Way of Allah” (Bukhari, 7458; Muslim, 1904).
As the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him, reminds us, there are worldly and otherworldly consequences for fighting, especially for the wrong reasons. For example, the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him, mentioned a man who claimed he both fought and was killed in the way of Allah, yet he was thrown into Hell. He says:
The first person to be judged on the Day of Resurrection will be a man who was martyred. He will be brought forward and reminded [by Allah] of the blessings he has received and he will acknowledge them. He will ask, “What have you done for these blessings?” He will say, “I fought for your sake until I was martyred.” Allah will reply, “You have lied. Rather, you fought in order that it would be said that you are brave, and it was said.” He will then be ordered to be dragged on his face until he is flung into Hell (Muslim, 1905).
Many times, the implications of literalism are not fully thought through. For example, if we consider the hadith, “Do not long to meet the enemy. Ask Allah for well-being. If you do meet them be patient and know that Paradise lies in the shadow of the swords” (Bukhari, 2965; Muslim, 1742). In this hadith, the Prophet, blessing and peace upon him, is warning against longing for the tribulation of conflict and ordering his community to pray for peace and well-being. This prayer is consistent with the origin (asl) in human affairs which is peace and wellbeing, war and disease are deviations from that origin. He then mentions that if you do meet the enemy to be patient. One of the manifestations of patience in conflict is to strictly observe the rules of engagement delineated by Allah and His Messenger, such as those guaranteeing the protection of innocents and noncombatants. He then says, and this is the point I want to emphasize in the context of discussing literalism, “…and know that Paradise lies in the shadow of the swords.” Our Prophet, blessings and peace upon him, mentioned that Paradise lies in the shadow of the swords. According to this hadith, literally interpreted, it does not lie in the shadow of the AK-47 or the RPG-7 or any other modern weapons. The only way to apply this hadith to modern fighting conditions is to interpret it figuratively or in the light of other texts.
This is a small example of the limited efficacy of literalism in understanding the divine texts. Ultimately, literalism in this area will only serve to reinforce foregone conclusions, such as mass murder being an inherent part of Islam. When it confronts its advocates with dilemmas of understanding that can only be resolved by its abandonment the usual course of action is to ignore those dilemmas.
Question: How can you advocate peaceful and friendly relations with non-Muslims when the “Verse of the Sword” (9:5) abrogates all of the lenient verses you cite to substantiate your position?
Answer: The contention that the “The Verse of the Sword” abrogates other more peaceful and tolerant verses in the Qur’an is flawed for a number of reasons. First of all, the most authoritative commentators on the Qur’an hold that the “Verse of the Sword” is itself abrogated by the verse, “Then, when you encounter the disbelievers in battle, smite their necks; after you have routed them, bind (the prisoners) tightly. Then set them free or ransom them…” (Qur’an 47:4). The point to be made here is that if an indiscriminate, unconditional order has been given to kill the non-Muslims, how can one have a choice to free or ransom them? It should also be pointed out that the order to “smite their necks” is in the context of the actual battle. Many anti-Islamic polemicists use this verse to argue that Muslims are ordered to behead innocent people.
Imam al-Qurtubi mentions that al-Dahhak, ‘Ata’, and others are of the opinion that the above-mentioned verse (Qur’an 47:4) abrogates the “Verse of the Sword.” Al-Thawri relates from Juwaybir, that al-Dahhak said, “Slay the polytheists wherever you find them… (9:5)” is abrogated by the verse, “Then set them free or ransom them….(47:4).” Imam at-Tabari reaches the following conclusion concerning this latter verse. After mentioning the proofs of those who opine that it abrogates or is abrogated by the “Verse of the Sword”:
The correct opinion in this discussion, as far as we are concerned, is that this verse (47:4) is operative; it has not been abrogated. This is because the description of what constitutes an abrogating or an abrogated [verse], which has been mentioned in more than one place in this book of ours, occurs when it is not possible to join the two conflicting rulings advanced by the verses or when there is convincing proof that one of the rulings abrogates the other. [In this case] it isn’t farfetched to say that a choice has been given to the Messenger of Allah and those charged with the affairs of the community after Him between liberating, ransoming, or executing [the combatant] non-Muslims.
Secondly, the claim that the “Verse of the Sword” abrogates other verses that encourage peace and tolerance is challenged by many exegetes. For example, among the verses it is claimed are abrogated by the Verse of the Sword, is the following, “If they [your enemies] incline towards peace then you should likewise incline and place your trust in Allah. Surely, He hears and knows all” (Qur’an 8:61). Imam Qurtubi engages in a lengthy discussion of why this verse is not abrogated. In the context of his discussion, he mentions that this verse is the basis for Muslims entering into a treaty of peace with non-Muslims that can extend indefinitely.
Imam Tabari similarly rejects the idea that this verse is abrogated. He mentions, “As for those who repeat what Qatada and others mention concerning the abrogation of this verse [by the Verse of the Sword]it is a baseless statement unsubstantiated by the Qur’an, the Sunna (prophetic tradition), or sound intellect.” Ibn Kathir, after mentioning the opinion that this verse is abrogated specifically rejects that idea. He states, “There is no contradiction (tanafi), abrogation (naskh) or specification(takhsis) [in this verse].”
In addition to the opinions that the “Verse of the Sword” is itself abrogated, and that it does not abrogate those verses urging restraint, peace and tolerance in relations between Muslims and the members of other communities, many scholars are of the opinion that it does not even apply to Jews and Christians. Hence, it cannot be used as a proof that the Qur’an condones the indiscriminant murder of Jews and Christians. For example, Imam al-Qurtubi, renowned for his exposition on the legal implications of the Qur’anic text, states, concerning the verse in question (9:5), “… it is permissible to [understand] that the expression ‘polytheists’ does not deal with Jews and Christians (Ahl al-Kitab).” This opinion is reinforced by the interpretation of a related prophetic tradition, “I’ve been ordered to fight the people until they testify that there is no deity but Allah. …” Imam Nawawi mentions in his commentary on this tradition, “Al-Khattabi says, ‘It is well-known that what is intended here are the people of idolatry, not the people of the Book (Jews and Christians).’” Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Ahmad, and many other scholars, are of the opinion that the polytheists living in the Arabian Peninsula at the advent of Islam are the group being referred to in the “Verse of the Sword.” As for polytheists outside of the Arabian Peninsula, in this opinion, the verse does not apply to them.
Question: You frequently quote the verse, “Whoever kills a soul for other than retribution in the case of murder or spreading murderous corruption on earth, it is as if he has killed all of humanity. Whoever saves an innocent soul, it is as if he has saved all of humanity, … (5:32)” but you never cite the next verse, “Rather, the sole recompense for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive to work corruption on earth is that they be killed, crucified, that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. Disgrace is theirs in this world; and in the Hereafter they will have a great punishment (5:33).”
Answer: The magnitude of the verse, “Whoever kills a soul for other than retribution in the case of murder or spreading murderous corruption on earth, it is as if he has killed all of humanity. Whoever saves an innocent soul, it is as if he has saved all of humanity,… (5:32)” is too great to glibly dismiss. However, I will not dwell long on it other than pointing out what two of the greatest Qur’anic commentators have said about it. Imam Fakhruddin al-Razi says, commenting on this verse:
When he [a murderer] resolves to intentionally kill an innocent person he has given preference to the dictates of his bloodlust and anger over the dictates of obeying Allah. When this prioritization occurs, in his heart he has resolved to kill anyone who opposes his demands, were he capable of doing so.
Imam al-Qurtubi mentions:
The meaning is that whoever makes it lawful to take the life of a single innocent person has made everyone’s life lawful, because he has rejected the divine law [establishing the prohibition of killing innocents].
It should be sufficient warning to anyone that intentionally killing innocent people has been declared by one of the greatest scholars in Islamic history as a rejection of the divine law.
To move to the subsequent verse (5:33):
Rather, the sole recompense for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive to work corruption on earth is that they be killed, crucified, that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. Disgrace is theirs in this world; and in the Hereafter they will have a great punishment (5:33).
It is interesting that attention is being called to this verse by a “jihadi” for it specifically indicts those guilty of the atrocities that increasingly are passed off in the name of “jihad,” as exegetes and jurists agree that this verse is an exposition on the punishment for those who are guilty of crimes against public order. The only difference of opinion in this regard is are such crimes against public order Muharabah/Hirabah strictly confined to rural areas or include both rural and urban areas. Imams Malik, al-Awza’i, Layth b. Sa’d, al-Shafi’i, and Ahmad b. Hanbal are of the opinion that such crimes against public order can occur in the rural and urban areas. However, Abu Hanifa and his school are of the opinion that they can only occur in rural areas because in urban areas people can more easily and readily appeal for help and there are police agencies to prevent such crimes under normal circumstances.
After an exhaustive study of the occasion for the revelation of this verse (5:33) Ibn Kathir explains the punishment associated with the crime it describes. He says:
The majority of scholars say: This verse is revealed for varying situations, as has been mentioned by Abu ‘Abdullah al-Shafi’i. [He says] we were informed by Ibrahim b. Abi Yahya, on the authority of Salih al-Taw’ama, on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas concerning the crime of brigandage: if the criminals kill and take wealth they are killed and crucified; if they kill and do not take wealth they are killed and not crucified; if they take wealth and do not kill their hands and feet are cut off from opposite sides; if they terrorize people, but do not take wealth they are exiled from the land.
No one mentions that this punishment can be applied to someone who has not been directly convicted of the crimes Ibn ‘Abbas mentions above. Hence, to claim or imply that this verse can be used to justify the murder of innocent civilians is a baseless misinterpretation.
Question: America, Israel and their dupes have no mercy on innocent Muslim civilians, why should we have mercy on their civilians?
Answer: Allah, Most High, says, “Do not kill the soul Allah has sanctified except with just cause…” What cause can be evoked to justify the murder of innocent, noncombatant people who might even be Muslims? The fact that America or Israel or anyone else does it is not a suitable justification. None of the Qur’anic verses mentioning retribution apply to this situation in light of the hadith, “There is no harm or reciprocating harm,” and the associated legal principle, “Harm is to be removed.” Killing innocent non-Muslims only creates the conditions making it easier for far greater numbers of Muslim civilians to be indiscriminately killed. Hence, it is inviting and reciprocating harm, which is to be removed.
Our Messenger, blessings and peace upon him, has stated that he is a gift of mercy. He declared, “O People! Verily, I am a gifted mercy” (Hakim, al-Mustadrak, 100). He further stated, “One who shows no mercy will be shown no mercy” (Bukhari, 5997; Muslim, 2318). Similarly, “Whoever shows no mercy to humanity, Allah will show him no mercy” (Bukhari, 6013; Muslim, 2319). Likewise, “The merciful people will be shown mercy by the All Merciful; be merciful to those on earth and the One in heaven will be merciful to you” (Abu Dawud, 4941; Tirmidhi, 1924). Also, “You will not believe until you are merciful to each other.” Those hearing this replied, “O Messenger of Allah! All of us are merciful [to each other].” He responded, “Not the mercy one of you displays to his companion, rather mercy to all people.” “Mercy is only removed from the heart of a Hell-bound wretch” (Abu Dawud, 4942). During the Battle of Uhud when his enemies were on the verge of killing him, the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him, was asked to pray for their destruction. He refused, declaring, “I was sent as a mercy. I was not sent to damn people.”
Question: You advocate friendly relations with the non-Muslims, when Allah has forbidden us from taking them as friends.
Answer: Allah mentions in the Qur’an, “Allah does not forbid you, concerning those who have not fought you because of your religion or driven you from your homes that you treat them kindly and justly. Allah loves those who are just” (Qur’an: 60:8). There are those who claim that this verse has been abrogated by the “Verse of the Sword (9:5).” However, Imam Qurtubi mentions, while explaining this verse, that most of the exegetes consider it to be operative and reject the idea that it is abrogated. The many scholars who consider the verse to be operative cite as the basis for their position the story of Asma, the daughter of Abu Bakr, when she was visited in Madina by her mother, who remained committed to idolatry. She hesitated accepting the gift her mother brought her and refused to allow her to enter her house. Upon learning of the situation, the Prophet, peace upon him, encouraged her to accept her mother’s gift, to host her and to treat her with the upmost kindness, even though she was an idolater.
Imam Tabari states, after mentioning the various interpretations of the verse in question (60:8):
The most accurate opinion concerning this [issue] is that of one who says, “What is intended by this verse (60:8) are members of all ways of life and all religions; that you are kind to them, join relations with them and treat them justly.” This is because Allah, Mighty and Majestic is He, makes a general statement [in the verse] that includes anyone who fits the description. He does not designate some people to the exclusion of others. The claim that the verse is abrogated is meaningless.
Ibn Kathir also rejects the idea that this verse (60:8) is abrogated. Alluding to the following verse (60:9), he states:
Rather, He forbids you from taking as friends those who have displayed open enmity towards you, fought you, expelled you, or cooperated in your expulsion. Allah, Mighty and Majestic, has forbidden you from their friendship.
If one examines other verses in the Qur’an that discourage the befriending of members of other faith communities, one will find, consistent with what Ibn Kathir mentions above, that condemnation is conditional. For example, in (3:28) it is conditional on prejudicing the believers; in (3:118) it is conditional on befriending those whose have openly declared their hatred for the religion and are working for its ruin; in (5:57) it is conditional on befriending those who ridicule Islam. When the conditions mentioned in these verses are absent then the prohibition against the just, equitable and friendly treatment of members of other faith communities is of no effect.
It is fitting to mention in conclusion here that a Muslim man can marry a non-Muslim woman. This is undeniable. Allah mentions in the Qur’an, “Among His signs is that he has made for you from yourselves spouses, in order that you live with them in tranquility, and he has made between you love and mercy. Indeed, in this are signs for people who do reflect” (30:21). Allah mentions that he has placed love and mercy between the man and his wife, who may be a Jew or a Christian. Is he to reject this love and mercy or the friendship of his spouse and blindly adhere to a supposed absolute prohibition against befriending members of other faith communities?
Question: What is a person who is fed up with America’s murder of innocent Muslims all over the world supposed to do?
Answer: This is a valid and important question. I will make a few recommendations here.
1. America’s foreign policy did not develop overnight, and it will not be changed overnight. It can be changed through hard work and effective alliances. Stupid acts of wild violence only make it more difficult to that work. Also, realize that you did not create the confusion, weakness, political incompetence and internecine conflicts that prevail in some parts of the Muslim world and that you are not responsible for or capable of fixing it. Oftentimes, we become stressed out over things beyond our control. Our Prophet (peace upon him) informed us, “From a person’s Islam being good is his leaving what does not concern him.” What we cannot control is not our concern. On the other hand there is much we are capable of doing here where we live yet we oftentimes neglect those things. We will even run from what we can effectively influence to become caught up in events that we have no ability to influence at all. This is a formula for frustration and ineffective action even counterproductive action.
2. Take advantage of the educational opportunities you have and train yourself to do something meaningful for the Muslims and humanity at large. Most people in the average Muslim society have no opportunity for higher education. Here in western societies we do have such opportunities. Instead of brooding about the situation of Muslims in various parts of the world, we should be educating ourselves to able to do something meaningful with our lives that can make a difference in theirs. It has been proven that knowledge indeed translates into power. We should be about the business of empowering ourselves to help others lead better lives, not plotting to their lives and ours even worse.
3. Contribute in a meaningful way to the discourse that is shaping how Americans view Islam. We should not assume that everyone in this country is inherently anti-Muslim. However, if we do not begin educating our fellow citizens about our religion, our community and the struggles of our people, an ever greater percentage of Americans will be prejudiced against Islam and we will have an extremely difficult time changing their attitudes. You can engage in research to help provide refutations of the slanderous and defamatory ideas that are being passed off as Muslim principles and beliefs. You can write or blog. You can teach people about Islam in both formal and informal settings. You can arrange for classes and seminars in public places such as libraries, community centers and similarly places. You can give private presentations in the homes of friends, neighbors and relatives. You can organize book clubs to read and discuss books that portray Islam accurately. If it seems like daunting work, it is, which is why so many run from it.
4. Learn a skill that is needed in the poor countries of the world and spend part of your time serving people in such places. Such skills may include medicine, nursing, computer science, sanitation engineering, environmental science, psychology (as the basis for therapeutic counseling for those who have only known war and destruction for the last thirty years). By serving in these areas you can contribute to the stability of societies that are damaged and dysfunctional after decades of unrelenting violence.
5. Help to serve the incarcerated, recent immigrants, poor, elderly and other populations whose lives are being ravaged by the corporate state. Building bridges with these populations will be a key to creating the kinds of coalitions that can push back in an effective way against the hegemonic materialistic machine that is attempting to actualize its control over all aspects of our lives. As the fiscal crisis of the state deepens there will be more and more people in need of various services. Muslims must step up to do our part in meeting those needs. This is one of the greatest things we can do to counter vociferous anti-Muslim propaganda.
6. Join the work of those organizations whose political vision aims to bring people together and to overcome the divisions and rifts that have separated them. Such work can take place within the context of the electoral political system and in the context of grassroots political education and organization. There are also many Muslim and other sympathetic advocacy groups that are springing up. Get involved with those groups and help to strengthen them both financially and in terms of their human resources.
7. Join the movement to help humanize Muslims to the mainstream society through arts and culture. This movement is powerful and is gaining momentum. The realms of effective communications in this regard include film, art, acceptable genres of music, poetry and many other vistas.
8. Get involved in the antiwar movement. Grassroots antiwar activism was instrumental in ending the Viet Nam War and it is the only thing that will end the so-called “War on Terror.” There are many organizations and online initiatives that need help to enhance their efficacy. Muslims should be involved with such groups in great numbers if we are sincere in our desire to end this current war, which is leading to the deaths of thousands of innocent people and the destruction of their societies.
These are just a few suggestions. There are many others. No young Muslim has an excuse to sitting around suffering from boredom waiting to be lured into a reactionary scheme that will only be used to set back Muslims both in this country and abroad.
I hope these answers have helped to provide some clarity and direction for those asking these questions and the demographic that they represent. At the end of the day, no success is possible without the Divine Providence of Allah. We ask that He assists us and that He fills our sails with the winds of His providence and His Love during these challenging times. May Allah bless you all, friend and foe alike.
Your Brother in Islam,
Imam Zaid Shakir