The Quran: The dialogue has become repetitive

February 28, 2015

Dear Mr. Ashraf,

It seems this dialogue has exhausted its possibilities. We seem to be repeating ourselves.

The dialogue started with my claim that Quran sanctions violence against non-believers, whom you like to call rejecters. Your argument seems to have four vital points:

  1. That what non-believers see as threats of violence by Allah in this life and hereafter are both justified because the rejecters broke the covenant.
  2. The fight of Muhammad and other messengers against the rejecters was justified because they were acting on the direct command of the Allah, they were responsible for implementing Allah’s judgment on this earth.
  3. The duty to fight and kill the rejecters was only of the messengers, and Muhammad was the last messenger; therefore, no believer has that duty now, nor the believers’ killing of non-believers is justified.
  4. This requires a contextual interpretation of the jihad verses in the Quran, that means that those verses were a duty for the followers of Muhammad at the time and in the circumstances where and when they were revealed; and are not eternal commands of Allah.

A rational dialogue, Mr. Ashraf, is possible only if the participants accept certain rules to conduct it. A tentative list of such rules, to my mind, could be as below.

Possible rules for a rational dialogue:

  1. When any participant asks the other to accept a claim s/he presents evidence /argument /reasons /grounds for that acceptance; nothing is asked to be accepted without adequate grounds.
  2. All participants try to understand each other’s language and claims as far as possible in the sense they are made by relevant interlocutor; and spare no efforts in achieving a common understanding of them.
  3. Each one of the participants remains consistent in the total claims s/he makes in the discussion at all levels. That is, does not make contradictory claims.
  4. If anyone makes two contradictory claims, and the other pints out the contradiction; then either the one who made the claim proves that there is no contradiction or reject one of the claims to make the totality of his/her own claims internally consistent.
  5. When authority (or testimony) is used it should be accepted to all.

If we go by these rules there are certain problems in your position. I will list some, not all, such problems below.

  1. Covenant with Allah

One, there is no justification for the covenant apart from Allah being the creator and all powerful. He simply created people and forced them into the covenant (as per your theory) without any choice reject this very deal and live peacefully. If the humans were given the power to think and make their own decisions then this act of Allah is inexplicable and self-contradictory. In this interpretation the Allah (actually most of the punishing Gods) is bordering on torturing people for self-glory and simple enjoyment of power.

Two, the only evidence of such a covenant you are providing is the claims of Quran or other religious books like Bible. Why should any non-believer in Islam should accept the authority of Quran? No grounds at all. Even the claim that Quran is the book given by Allah rests only on the claims of Quran itself. If the authority of the Quran is rejected by a non-believer then that claim is of no rational value. And there is no independent argument that the Quran is revealed by Allah.

  1. Muhammad as messenger

The fight of Muhammad against the rejecters is justified on the assumption of accepting him as the Messenger. But why should a non-believer accept that? Again on the authority of Quran, which itself is questionable.

Second, the only ground for acceptance of Muhammad as messenger of God outside Quran you have provided is the claim that “[w]hen Allah sends a messenger, he is like a sun in the sky which can’t be denied by anyone having eye sight. Such a denial is a willful rejection of truth.” Well this is spacious. Those who deny—and there were who denied in Muhammad’s life time—are declared either as not having eye sight or wilful rejecters; actually in Quran both simultaneously. Declaring them both as not having eye-sight and rejecters is self-contradictory. In any case such a declaration can be no ground in a rational sense to believe in his messenger-hood. Anyone can claim such messenger-hood or god-hood. There have been plenty of people before and after Muhammad who have claimed this. Some of them are even living today. This needs an argument or evidence that is independent of Quran and other religious books.

Till such evidence is available it could only be considered as fictitious self-justification by Muhammad, as the Quran was revealed to him.

  1. The Quranic verses should be interpreted contextually

This would be a welcome reading of Quran. And that is how all religious texts should be read. But then immutability and eternality of Quran will have to be compromised. Unfortunately many believers do not accept it.

Unless this dialogue answers these questions without using the authority of Quran we both are repeating ourselves.

As per your comments on what is religion and what it does, etc.; please read on the same blog.

With regards


The Quran: Continuing dialogue with Mr. Ashraf

February 20, 2015

Rohit Dhankar

[This post is my response to Mr. Ashraf’s comment on my last post. Interested people will understand better if first read his comment. However, I have tried to summarise the points I am responding to.–Rohit]

Dear Mr. Ashraf,

You are interpreting Quran in a very balanced manner coming to conclusions most (not all) of which will be readily accepted in today’s world. I think it is a very commendable effort. If Quran teaches you that ‘sanctity of human life is the summum bonum’ I believe every sane human will rejoice in this conclusion of yours. One by one you have made very significant choices: 1. today as a believer it is not your job to punish non-believers, 2. the declaration of war (jihad in Quran) was not against all rejecters but the Maccan rejecters of that time, 3. as a present day believer you cannot disassociate yourself from non-believers and rejecters.

I think they are very reasonable and intelligent choices and interpretations for a believer. However, it seems to me there is a tension between these ‘interpretations’ and some declarations in the Quran. Please do not misunderstand me; I am not trying to dissuade you from this interpretation; that would be a pity, an act against humanity; if I believed in ‘sin’ I would have called such an attempt a ‘sin’. But logical tension is something we should not ignore. In the light of this last statement of mine I have three specific points regarding your claims in this post:

1. Sura 9 is about declaration of war only against idolaters of Macca.
2. That war against idolaters of Macca was justified because they rejected the ‘truth’.
3. A knowing and wilful rejecter of ‘truth’ (after understanding) should be punished, by the messenger.

I will briefly deal with each one of them below.

1. War was against Maccan rejecters alone

Not so, Mr. Ashraf. Actually the most stringent verses making jihad mandatory for all believers came after capturing Macca and almost total consolidation of Arabia under Muhammad’s rule. They came in connection with expedition to Tabuk, which was based on either unconfirmed rumours of possible attack by Byzantine Empire or a fabrication. As the Muslim army found no enemy at Tabuk and Byzantine records have no mention of any plan to attack Arabia or Muslims at that time.

Maulana Azad says that the first 30 or 40 verses came sometime after occupation of Macca. They were for consolidation of faith. Maulana also claims that the “last verses of this chapter were also delivered during the ninth year of the Hijra, while the Prophet was on an expedition to Tabuk and a little there after.” However, the Maulana agrees with you about the initial verses that they were not for war against polytheists in general but polytheists of Arabia, who were still resisting in some parts. According to Maulana the Verse 29 is about Jews of Arabia and Christians of Syria. And he also says that “the remaining verses of this chapter deal with the Prophet’s expedition to Tabuk.” One can confirm this with two other commentaries. One, Tafsir-ul-Qur’an by Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi; and two, A Comprehensive Commentary on Quran by E M Wherry. So the chapter involves more than just Maccan rejecters. And that is important, as the involvement of Byzantine Empire gives these verses a wider context.

My second disagreement regarding ‘only in context’ interpretation of these verses is what I have already explained in my earlier post. Maulana Azad sees a general lesson in these verses when the community of believers is in danger or under attack. This is legitimate, in a way, but the interpretation of danger and under attack in the history have shown that this little consideration can be easily converted into a call for jihad. Even the Tabuk call for jihad is suspect in this sense; was there a real danger? However, people agreeing with this contextual interpretation can legitimately claim that that is not the fault of the Book, but that of the interpreters.

2. That war against rejecters of Macca was justified

I am not absolutely certain about it. Muhammad was the first one to declare the Maccan gods as false and of no use, which cannot even protect themselves; and giving inflammatory examples of idol breaking by Abraham etc. He rejected all offers of reconciliation; one fully understands that being steadfast with his monotheism he could not have worked out any compromise. But was it necessary for him to denigrate their gods? At one or two places Quran advises the believers not to insult nonbelievers’ gods, but the reason given is that if you do that they may insult your God. However, the Quran itself calls them false and useless, and talks of them in insulting terms. One should understand Maccan people’s behaviour exactly on the yardstick of Islam today. Does an Islamic state allow preaching a new religion in its territories? The Maccan Arabs were from the same culture. In such circumstances the question becomes important as to how justified was Muhammad’s war against the Maccans? I know the stories of all the ‘aggressions’, ‘unrest in the land’, ‘unprovoked attacks’, etc. But there are more than one versions of all these claims. That brings me to my third and the most important point.

3. Knowing and wilful rejecter should be punished?

I am asking this question not regarding common people like you and me; I am asking this regarding someone claiming to be a ‘messenger’. There have been many people in the history who declared themselves either as prophets, or messengers or avatars or somehow having the authority of the supreme Lord. Some of them were proved to be charlatans, some were more successful. Suppose today someone declares himself/herself as such an authority; and peaches to us (to you and me) for 20 years. One, can this person ever be certain that we understood him/her? No, so s/he has to invoke the help from the God, who informs her/him that we have understood but are still rejecting. Two, can the people ever be certain that this person is really the authority s/he claims to be? If no, why should they believe her/his claims and why should they accept? Then what right does this preacher has to punish them? On the authority given to him/her by the God, of which no one but s/he alone can be certain?

What I am trying to say is that this very idea of someone having the ultimate truth, and those who do not believe can be punished, even be killed, is a violent idea. The very possession of ultimate truth and the authority to enforce it are ideas against human freedom of conscience, autonomy of decision, human dignity and human reason. Sorry, Friend, but they are evil ideas. All religions have this tendency in the beginning; but slowly they learn and become mellowed. Perhaps you know that even the Catholic Church has come to the understanding in Vatican three that religions other than Christianity can also be true religions and lead to salvation. (In my opinion they all lead to slavery, rather than to salvation!) All your writing in this dialogue, Ashraf Saheb, in spite of being very gentle and liberal in all other respects, is very firm that there is one and only one true religion and that is Islamic monotheism. And that all the atheists and all polytheists and rejecters of Islam will go to hell (I am saying this on the basis of the theory you gave in your first response). And that is the real problem with religions, their belief that they are the only true guardians of the ultimate truth. The more absolute this belief becomes, greater condemnation for the humanity issues from it. And the more foul a tinder-box ready to be sparked it becomes.

I am sorry if it has come out rather strongly. And, yes, in one of your posts you have wondered that ‘mocking religions’ might be my religion. No, Mr. Ashraf, I am not mocking; just analysing somewhat ruthlessly. And this cannot be a religion. In my humble view (I might be wrong) a religion (purely at the level of belief) can be defined as follows:

• It is a system of beliefs based on some central dogmas.
• These central dogmas are considered the ‘truths’ by the believers and have to be accepted on faith; there are no rational grounds for their justification; and a rational examination of them is not accepted.
• One of the central dogmas is necessarily life after death, in some form or other.
• One’s actions in this life determines the kind of life one will have after death.

[Religions also have social, political and organisational aspects. So this is not a full definition but takes care of the belief system aspect adequately.]

A belief system that does not have these characteristics cannot be called a religion. A belief system which accepts reason as basis of justification and is ready to subject each belief to strict rational scrutiny cannot be called a religion. Therefore, my examination of religions cannot be called a religion.

With regards

The Quran: Response to Mr. Ashraf

February 15, 2015

Rohit Dhankar

Faith always demands acceptance before understanding. Perhaps that is why Adam and Eve were forbidden the fruit of knowledge. Critical examination can be tolerated in faith only under the condition that the dogma is first accepted and criticality submits to the dogma, operating only within the boundaries drawn by it.

Mr. Ashraf’s response “Quran and Peace” exemplifies this very clearly. He does not respond to my understanding (whatever little) of Quran; but gives a theory which says how Quran can be understood properly as preaching peace. This, to me at the least, is a very illuminating piece of writing. I am sure, on his own testimony, Mr. Ashraf believes in this; however, I am not sure if all true believers in Quran would endorse it. Still it gives a glimpse in the mind of a believer, provides a picture of the world and principles to live a ‘good’ life. Therefore, is worth making an attempt to understand it critically and workout possible implications if one actually believes in this theory of the world and religion. That is what I propose to do in this little article, though I have to be brief for want of time.

Mr. Ashraf’s position is articulated in sufficient detail, therefore, it would be useful first to summarize it as accurately as my capabilities can manage. I will do it in several sections, first summarizing an important point and then responding to it. At the end will list a few question that this piece raises in my mind.

On peace and freedom

Mr. Ashraf states in unequivocal terms that “peace and freedom” are essential for any society. That violence cannot be justified in the name of religion; it is “a shame for humanity” and no words are strong enough to “condemn” it. This is a good news for non-believers (non-believers not of Islam alone, but of all religions). However, this unacceptability of violence may not be endorsed by religious texts, of Islam as well as of other religions. I am not responding to this claim any further, unless by the way of reference in response to other points. Simply because if all religious people come to this understanding, it would be a hugely good news for the world as a whole.

Who can understand Quran, and how?

Mr. Ashraf not only claims that the Quran preaches peace; but also that it is “a basic, not an additional point to the knower of this book”. But according to him this understanding of the book is not available to people who do not meet three conditions. To understand the book one has to know:

  1. The source of the book
  2. The purpose of the book, and
  3. The theme of the book.

One who does not understand these three things cannot understand the message of peace in the Quran. So let’s examine these three conditions separately.

The source of the book

To understand the Quran properly, according to Mr. Ashraf, one has to first accept that “he has a creator and there is a purpose of his creation”. With this in mind if he reads the book he “will know that the source of this book is God (Allah), his creator and sustainer”.

Which implies that for an atheist (be s/he socially Hindu, Christian or Muslim) it is not possible to understand the true meaning of the Quran. Actually, no one but Muslims believe that the Quran came from Allah, therefore, only Muslims can understand the true meaning of Quran. That should not be a problems at all, and many religions make that claim about their scriptures. It is not that hard to come by a claim that the Gita can be understood only by a believing Hindu, who first accepts that Krishna was an Avatar of the supreme God.

Problem arises when one wants to first understand these books and then accept their claims. This path is clearly closed for Quran as per Mr. Ashraf. One first has to believe and then understand. The order of things is reversed for human mind. The book, therefore, can contribute nothing to one’s acceptance of it or not.

The real problem arises when some of the believers demand certain special treatment of the book and charters in it (Allah and Muhammad, or Krishna and Gita) from non-believers. Because then the non-believers have to unconditionally accept the believers’ interpretation of the book, as they can never understand it on principle. This is a method of putting the book beyond critical examination, and still demanding special treatment to it. In the modern world this cannot be accepted.

The theme of the book

According to Mr. Ashraf, “[T]he theme of Qur’an is Muhammad’s (PBUH) warning (‘indhar’ in Arabic). Every page of the book speaks of this reality.” However, “before” the true meaning of this theme can be understood “one has to establish this clear concept that the giver of this book is the supreme authority.” Again, therefore, this understanding is a prerogative of Muslims alone. However, in the actual reality, every reader of the book notices it immediately that the theme is Muhammad, his warning, his power and obedience, and punishments he perpetrates on others. But the ‘true’ meaning of all this seem to be reserved only for the believers. We will revisit this issue in somewhat greater detail, a little later.

The purpose of the book

The purpose of the book is not deliberated upon in detail by Mr. Ashraf, but it seem to be to warn those who reject the belief in Allah as the only God and Muhammad as His last messenger. And the warning, of course, is stern. It is not a warning from a concerned and kind parent; rather, a warning from an absolute power who demands absolute submission and does not mind tuning into a permanent (internal) tormenter if the warning is not heeded. Why is he so obsessed with his worship and obedience alone is beyond the minds of non-believers.

We can understand the full scale meaning of these things (as unbelievers) only if we look at the grand scheme and jihad, warning, violence etc. within that scheme. So now I would like to turn to that grand scheme.

The grand scheme as described by Mr. Ashraf

I am not sure, as I said above, whether this is Mr. Ashraf’s belief alone or of a sizable number in the believers of Islam. But it is worth understanding; however, I can do that only through my infidel mind, as that is all I have.

The scheme in brief

The beginning

The Allah created the world. He created all human beings, including you and me in the very beginning, and also created the hell and the haven. He showed us both the hell and the haven; and put a condition before us: if you believe and obey me as the only God, you will get heaven. If you do not, you will get the hell. And made us first make a covenant with him that we will believe only in Him. One wonders: 1. Why did he do that? 2. Where is the freedom for us? The condition is absolute, and binding. The test is stern and there was only one way of wriggling out of it, not a very attractive one, hardly better than hell (we will come to that). Is it just? Is Allah, strictly as per this scheme, just? Looks like a tyrant playing games with mice to me.

Those who did not agree to the test

Some of us humans got too scared. They opted out of the test. The Allah, in his mercy makes them die in infancy, before they do anything in accordance or against His will. These will be the serving boys and girls in the heaven. That is why I said above there is no way out of the test, this can hardly be a desired end for any human being.

The prophets

“They were the ones who decided to take the toughest test.” Not only that they will themselves live according to the will of Allah, but also that they will preach his word; and messengers (like Muhammad) among them will punish and destroy those who reject the Allah’s demand that they worship no God but Him. They will get the highest rewards in the heave, but also the severest punishment if do not comply with Allah’s demand.

Those who came at the time of the prophets

“Those who had a lot of resolve chose the times of the prophets for their test. Their test was to believe in and support the prophets during those eras of widespread ignorance.” Those who actively aligned with the prophets will get high rewards in both the worlds. If they happened to be with the “messenger” who also punishes those who refuse to believe, they get the political power and also the duty to destroy nonbelievers. They also will get very high rewards in the heaven; though, less than the prophets and messengers among the prophets.

The Muslims

“The second, and lower, level of the test is whereby people chose to become part of the nations of the prophets after the prophets had passed away. Their test is to protect themselves from going astray, sectarianism, deviations, and ignorance of later times while holding steadfast to the divine law. They are also expected to promote good deeds and to help stop people from bad deeds. Those responsibilities are assigned to them as they have the teachings of the prophets to turn to for guidance, and because they are born as Muslims.”

The lowest of all

The third group comprises of people who selected an even easier test. They are born in circumstances where they do not have access to any direct guidance from the prophets. Their test is based on the innate divine guidance present in the nature of every human being, that is, a test based on belief in Oneness of his Lord and universal moral values.”

Their test is supposed to be easy, they are not responsible for spreading the God’s word or stopping others from doing bad deeds. But their reward is also the lowest if they are successful; so is their punishment if they fail. As there is “no risk no gain” principle operating.

An infidel’s comments

I read something very interesting in it, I admit the possibility of misinterpretation, but am still sharing how I see it.

Turning covenant into a karma-theory

All the three so called Semitic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) are based on the idea of covenant with the God. Covenant is an agreement between God and his people in which God makes certain promises and requires certain behavior from them in return. The God demands absolute status as the only God and promises certain benefits to those who agree.

Mr. Shraf explains on the basis of the covenant and how strictly one follows it the status of people in the world and their rewards and punishments hereafter. Both—status in this world and gains hereafter—are dependent on your karma of agreement, the level of test you chose and the strictness you passed the test with. It is all your karma after the covenant, which was forced upon you by the Allah. Seems to come reasonably close to karma-theory. The beauty of the karma-theory and covenant theory is simple: they bind and govern you; but there are no grounds and methods to examine their truth. They have to be believed on the word of some prophet or some Rishi or some avatar.

Yesterday, Kejriwal explained results of Delhi elections in similar words. He said (not exact words) that this kind of landslide victory cannot be due to the work of any man. It is the doing of the uparwala (the God), he wants to do something grand, he has a scheme, Kejriwal and his party are just his instruments (nimitta), and they are lucky to be his instruments. Well Krishna told Arjuna that he is just a nimitta, Israelites considered themselves as chosen people for God’s work and felt lucky, so did Muhammad. How do you prove or disprove Kejriwal or Krishna or Israelites or Muhammad? Do others have any better grounds than Kejriwal? (A little aside question: is Kejriwal being humble in attributing it to God, or is he being arrogant declaring himself the instrument of the supreme Power? The same question can be asked of all the others. And is he preparing to take on the mental of a prophet?

Varna cannot remain behind if you have karma

Another striking similarity of the covenant theory as explained by Mr. Ashraf is with the varna theory. The world is automatically divided into four varnas based on their response to the test offered by the God. Highest—prophets and messengers. Second lower—people who agreed to be born in the time of the prophets. Third lower: the people who chose to be born in the nations of prophets (Muslims of later era). The lowest—the people who are born in the rest of the world, without guidance. The polytheists etc. This is decided; even more immutable than the caste in India, as your caste might change in the next life (janma), but in this covenant theory there is only one life that fixes your fate for eternity.

The crimes and punishment

“Polytheism, disbelief and apostasy are indeed grave crimes; however, no human being can punish another human being for these crimes. This is the right of Allah alone”, says Mr. Shraf. And Allah will punish, and will accept no excuses.

This scheme which is propounded as so just, condemns more than the 50% of humanity to eternal torment of hell. It seems there have been some highly regarded people in the world who will go to hell as per this understanding. We must remember though, that, 1. Almost all religions predict hell for people belonging to other religions, so this is not unique to Islam or this doctrine; and 2. Mr. Ashraf may not agree with this list, but I see no way of avoiding this implication, this is direct logic. Let’s meet some of them in a random order:

  • Krishna, (if there was such a historical figure). He declared himself as the supreme God, and said worship whomsoever you want all worship will naturally flow to him. A non-believer and a blasphemer.
  • Mahavira, as he had no use of God in creating and sustaining the world.
  • Buddha, as he did not believe that there is a God.
  • Socrates, as he believed in other Gods as well, was a polytheist.
  • Plato, the same as Socrates.
  • Christ, as he declared himself as the son of God and part of the God. (Quran claims that he did not think so, it is only later Christians who brought these impurities to the Book. But then you have to accept Islamic understanding of a Christian text.)
  • Most of modern philosophers.
  • Gandhi, he was happy to believe in all religions simultaneously, and to accept all Gods.
  • Dalailama, he does not seem to believe in God (I guess, as Buddhism does not believe in God).

And of course all people who do not believe in Islamic monotheism, definitely atheists. I do not know how to look at an exclusivist doctrine which dispatches to hell such an impressive list of people. And the majority of people born in this world so far. The only consolation for people like me is that the company in the hell is interesting; in case they pay attention to smallfries.

Some remaining questions

Coming back to valance, some questions remain:

  1. The messenger’s right to destroy non-believers simply because they did not believe is granted as per this thesis, however a believer may consider it totally justified. So Quran did sanction violence against non-believers in Muhammad’s time; though this path of spreading religion is closed now for ever, fortunately. Good for humanity.
  2. Now only a sovereign state may declare jihad when it becomes “essential to curb the evils perpetrated by countries and nations”. Can non-Islamic states also declare jihad or is it a prerogative of Islamic states alone? Can a state declare jihad even if the evil is perpetrated within the boundaries of another state and has nothing to do with the state which wants to declare jihad?
  3. The Muslims are supposed “to help stop people from bad deeds”. This is about individual Muslims. Am I correct in assuming that they cannot do this stopping with violent means, if the supposed to be ‘bad deeds’ are not directly against them? Also, can Muslims of country A get involved into stopping these deeds if they are happening with Muslims in a country B different from theirs? Also, are the Muslims supposed to try to stop these deeds with any one, irrespective of sufferers being Muslims or not?

Finally, I do understand that Mr. Ashraf, like any decent human being today, is against all violence in the name of religion; and in his interpretation of the Quran the book does not sanction violence. But this is achieved through two devices. One, justifying some of the violence (Ex. Of hell, destruction of non-believers in this world by God’s actions, and Muhammad’s attacks on non-believers) in the name of the original covenant and Allah’s scheme. And two, interpreting some verses of Quran to mean that it was justified in that context they were revealed in, but no more. This interpretation is not accepted by all believers as for them Quran is the eternal message of the Allah.

This piece of mine, of course, will be interpreted as biased against Islam by Mr. Ashraf, and against all religions by those who know me better. One argument is that religion is beyond (or below!) reason, therefore, this kind of analysis is futile and misleading. I accept this wholeheartedly, but only as long as the religion does not play any role in the public space, remains totally private. As soon as it enters the public space in a democracy where everyone not a believer, religion loses this immunity against reason (or common sense thinking) and becomes one with all political ideologies. Open to be analysed and criticised.

I sincerely value Mr. Shraf’s concern for and politeness shown to me in the following remark (actually throughout his article): “for your own sake, please don’t open the translations and commentaries of the holy book until you develop an urge from inside to seek the truth. […. Allah leads astray many and guides many to the right way by the same thing and He leads astray only those who disobey Allah. Qur’an 2:26]”

But I hardly care about Allah or any God, my concern are human beings and their thought process to guide them to live a decent life in this world. Because of that I cannot stop from examining religious books. As he has faith in Allah’s command, I have confidence in human mind, and it’s totally unhindered use to the hilt. Therefore, the Allah and all His divine enemies (for Allah has no friends among the divinity, only rivals and enemies), be they from whatever religion are bound to be angry with me. But fortunately, I am only a very small and insignificant part of the great mass humanity who will not stop the use of their minds because of the fear of wrath of all the Allahs, Gods and Ishwaras put together. Or at the least I hope so.


Quran and Peace: A response to Quran and Violence

February 9, 2015

Shakeel Ashraf

[This article was posted as a comment to my last post on Quran; I am really grateful to Mr. Shakeel Shraf for allowing me to put it up as an independent post. Reason for putting up as independent post is simple: more readers are likely to hit than as a comment.

This is long, but a thoughtful response from a believer. Those who want to understand a believer’s thoughts on my Quran articles should read it with patience and care. It has a lot in it. I will respond to it when get time, which I hope will be soon. Meanwhile interested readers can carry on a dialogue with Mr. Ashraf.

I have put it up as it was. The only changes I have made are: 1. Have given it a title; 2. Have inserted a few paragraph breaks in some very long paragraphs for ease of reading; and 3. Have made Mr. Ashraf’s subtitles bold. I have not changed a single word in the body of the piece.–Rohit Dhankar]

Dear Rohit Sir

I am privileged to read your write up, “Quran and violence” on your website You have expressed your thought in an unconventional and impressive style; though I don’t find it impartial as claimed. No blame on you, Sir. Such partiality in approach is a natural outcome of the prevailing social scenario around us. One needs to rise above the scenario and dedicate his thought honestly to a sacred mission of seeking the truth.

Peace and freedom are two essential requirements of a civilized society. Every individual has the right to freedom of choice as long as his freedom doesn’t cause harm to others. The same is true in matters of religion. Our Lord says, “Had your Lord so willed, all those who are on the earth would have believed. Will you, then, force people into believing? (10:99)”. Violence is an act that must be disliked by any good soul; even an evil person wouldn’t like to come under violent attack from others. How can violence be justified in the name of religion if religion is for the benefit of humanity? If it can be established that religion incites violence then as a logical consequence there must be something really wrong with religion. Religion, be it right or wrong, majority of mankind has some sort of affiliation with it. Since your article targets mainly religion of Islam and I belong to it, so my response will address the subject accordingly.

Violence in the name of religion is a shame for the humanity. Violence is definitely an insanity and no words are enough to condemn this. Nevertheless, “Qur’an doesn’t sanction violence, it preaches peace” is basic, not an additional point for the knower of this book. It is a premise arguably true; but only a seeker of truth can be able to appreciate this. It is beyond the reach of all who don’t believe in eternal importance of religion for humanity. Be a pacifist or a war monger; he may be a believer in Qur’an but it doesn’t necessarily imply that he possesses true understanding of the holy book and its moral vision. ‘Qur’an sanctions violence to silence dissent’, is, surely, a precept of misunderstanding.

In order to be able to clear this misunderstanding, first, one needs to apprehend, what Qur’an is all about? There are three basic things about this book that must be taken into due account – (a) source of the book, (b) the purpose of the book, and (c) the theme of the book. A seeker of truth can get a correct starting point if he be able to convince himself that he has a creator and there is a purpose of his creation. With this in mind if, he; I mean, a seeker of truth, studies this book he will receive due guidance for his thought and actions. He will know that the source of this book is God (Allah), his creator and sustainer. A believer, whatever be his level of intellect, doesn’t face any difficulty up to this point.

When he moves on further without understanding the theme of the book, there is a possibility that he may face a moral dilemma between war and peace because the book apparently talks about both. When a student of the book seeks help from different scholars he may find that the scholars are divided. Some of them believe in preaching the truth in a peaceful manner while others see war as means to make truth prevail over falsehood. The division is a result of not making due effort to find the theme of the book. Before any attempt to understand the theme of the book, one has to establish this clear concept that the giver of this book is the supreme authority. He is the possessor of all the good attributes human thought can imagine; no; it is beyond imagination. His absolute authority can’t be compared with the authority of the head of a democratic government accountable to his voters.

The concept of reward for obeying and punishment for disobeying is not an alien to human intellect. According to Qur’an, mankind has been created with a grand scheme of an eternal life divided with an interval of death. Pre interval part of the grand scheme is a testing period full of worldly enticements. To ensure the success in the post interval period of eternity, Allah provides guidance to mankind with sense of morality further assisted through His human representatives with books. His representatives are of two types, prophets and messengers. Allah’s prophets (‘nabi’ in Arabic) are only preachers who can be rejected by their addressee whereas messengers (‘rasul’ in Arabic) are those among the prophets, who are assigned a special duty to warn and demonstrate a sample of Allah’s judgment to their nation without any fear of being rejected. Allah’s messenger’s accepters are rewarded and his rejecters are punished at the completion of the scheme. Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the final messenger who brought Qur’an. The theme of Qur’an is Muhammad’s (PBUH) warning (‘indhar’ in Arabic). Every page of the book speaks of this reality.

The reason for this is that the Qur’an has not merely been revealed as a book of law and wisdom, it has also been revealed to become the real means of the prophet’s warning to his people: “And this Qur’an has been revealed to me that I may warn you through it and all whom it may reach (6:19)”. As stated above, Muhammad (PBUH) was not merely a prophet, he was also a messenger. Prophets are personalities whom the Almighty reveals divine guidance so that they can guide people. However, not every prophet is a messenger. Messenger-hood is a position bestowed to only some prophets. According to its details furnished by the Qur’an, a messenger implements the judgment of Allah on his addressees in this very world. The Qur’an informs us that this final phase in the preaching endeavor of a messenger comes after it passes through the phases of initial preaching, widespread preaching with warning, completion of preaching and warning to conclusive level, migration from the land of rejecters and declaration of disconnection from the rejecters. It is in this final phase that the divine court of justice descends and is set up on this earth. Punishment is meted out to the rejecters of the truth and those who have accepted it are rewarded, and in this way a miniature Day of Judgment is witnessed on the face of the earth.

The history of the preaching endeavors of the messenger (PBUH) related in the Qur’an shows that at this stage generally either of the two situations arise. In one situation, a messenger has only a few companions and there is no place available to him for migration. In the other situation, companions of a messenger are in substantial numbers and the Almighty also furnishes a place to them where they can migrate and be bestowed with political authority. In both these situations, the established practice of the Almighty manifests itself – the practice which the Qur’an refers to in the following words: “Indeed those who are opposing Allah and His Messenger are bound to be humiliated. The Almighty has ordained: “I and My Messengers shall always prevail.” Indeed Allah is Mighty and Powerful (58:20-21)”.
In the first situation, divine punishment descends upon those who have rejected the messenger in the form of raging storms, cyclones and other calamities, which completely destroy them. It is evident from the Qur’an that the people of Noah Lot, Salih and Shu‘ayb (peace be upon them) besides others met with this dreadful fate. The only exception in this case were the Israelites. Since they primarily adhered to monotheism, instead of annihilation, the punishment of subjugation was meted out to them once the Prophet Jesus (PBUH) left them.
In the second situation, a messenger and his companions subdue their nation by force. In this case, the addressees of the messenger are given some more respite as he delivers the truth to the people of the place he has migrated to till the extent that they too are left with no excuse to deny it. Also, during this time he instructs and purifies his followers and isolates them from his rejecters and organizes them to fight the enemy. He also consolidates his political authority in the place he has migrated to the extent that with its help he is able to destroy his rejecters and achieve victory for his followers.
In the case of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), this second situation arose. Consequently, the theme of the Qur’an is the account of his warnings which passed through various phases referred above and culminated in the worldly reward and retribution of his addressees. Each of its chapters has been revealed in this background, and each of its groups have been arranged keeping it in view.

Qur’anic directives which relate to jihad, supremacy of the truth and political authority as a result of this supremacy, need to be determined, whether they are a permanent directive of Islamic shariah or if they specifically relate to the addressees of the prophetic times and the directive cannot be extended beyond these addressees.

Jihad and War in Quran

Jihad means to exert oneself fully in an endeavor. Just as this term appears in the Qur’an for a general struggle in the way of Allah, it also appears as a term for waging war in His way. Two forms of this war have been described: First, war against the denial of Islam related to divine principle of conclusive argument from Allah through His messenger as briefed in earlier paragraph. The door to this has been closed.

Second, war against oppression and injustice. Peace and freedom are two essential requirements of a society. Just as various penal measures help in protecting a society from the evils and excesses committed by an individual, resorting to armed offensives sometimes becomes essential to curb the evils perpetrated by countries and nations. As long as diplomatic relations and negotiations can be used to resolve matters, no one would endorse the use of force for settling affairs. However, if a nation threatens to disrupt the peace and freedom of the world and its arrogance and haughtiness exceed all bounds, a stage may come when the use of force and power becomes essential to keep it in check. In such cases, it is the inalienable right of humankind to forcibly stop its subversive activities until peace and freedom of the world are restored.

The Qur’an asserts that if the use of force had not been allowed in such cases, the disruption and disorder caused by insurgent nations would have reached the extent that the places of worship would have become deserted and forsaken, not to mention the disruption of the society itself: “And had it not been that Allah set aside one people with another, the monasteries and churches, the synagogues and the mosques, in which His praise is abundantly celebrated would be utterly destroyed (Qur’an 22:40)”. According to many scholars, only a sovereign state should use such force not individuals or groups.

The real religion

When Allah created man, he implanted two things in him: first, the perception that he has a creator (Quran 7:172) who is his master and second: recognition of good and bad; right and wrong (Quran 91:7-10) and that is what is available in every individual as moral value irrespective of his awareness of religious scriptures. This is the real religion (monotheism and ethics) which the Almighty gave man at the time He created him. Every sane person knows the importance of ethics; why is the same kind of realization not there for monotheism? Why do so many people commit the crime of polytheism or atheism? We will ponder over this issue in the next paragraph.


The subject of monotheism didn’t start with Quran in sixth century AD. It is there from the day man was created. Before coming to this earth man entered into a covenant with Allah. Qur’an describes this in, 7:172-173, “And recall (0 Prophet) when your Lord brought forth descendants from the loins of the sons of Adam, and made them witnesses against their own selves, asking them: ‘Am I not your Lord?’ They said: ‘Yes, we do testify.’ We did so lest you claim on the Day of Resurrection: ‘we were unaware of this’. Or say: ‘our forefathers before us who associated others with Allah in His divinity; we were merely their offspring who followed them. And would you destroy us for that which the unrighteous did?” According to this when Allah wanted to hand over the governance of the world after endowing man with reason and understanding, He took from him an oath of allegiance. The verse describes the purpose of the primordial covenant. The purpose is to make every person responsible for his deeds so that if he rebels against Allah he will be held fully accountable for that rebellion.

Because of the covenant, no one will be able either to plead for acquittal on grounds of ignorance, or blame his misdeeds on his ancestors. In other words, this primordial covenant has been mentioned as the reason for the inherent awareness in every single person that Allah is the only Lord. Thus, none can totally absolve himself of his responsibility on the plea that he was altogether ignorant, or transfer the blame for his error to the corrupt environment in which he was brought up.

The covenant is not preserved in man’s conscious memory; it has been preserved in man’s sub-conscious mind. The primordial covenant is no different from other pieces of knowledge in man’s sub-conscious mind. Whatever man has so far achieved in the way of culture and civilization can be attributed to his latent potentialities. All external factors and internal motivations simply account for helping the actualization of those potentialities. Neither education nor training nor environmental factors can bring out anything which is not potentially found in the human mind.

Likewise, external factors have no power to root out man’s latent potentialities. External factors may, at the most, cause a person to deflect from the course dictated by sound human nature. However, man’s sound nature is inclined to resist the pressure of external forces and exert itself in order to find an outlet. This is not peculiar to man’s religious propensity alone, but is equally true of all his mental potentialities. In this regard the following points are particularly noteworthy:
(1) all man’s potentialities exist in the sub-conscious mind and prove their existence when they manifest themselves in the form of human action.

(2) The external manifestation of these potentialities requires external stimuli such as instruction, upbringing and attitudinal orientation. In other words, our actions consist of the responses of our inherent potentialities to external stimuli.

(3) Man’s inner potentialities can be suppressed both by false urges within him as well as external influences by trying to pervert and distort those latent potentialities. The potentialities themselves, however, cannot be totally rooted out.

The same holds true of man’s intuitive knowledge regarding his position in the universe and his relationship with his Creator. In this connection the following points should be borne in mind:

(1) That man has always had such intuitive knowledge is evident from the fact that this knowledge has surfaced throughout history in every period and in every part of the world, and which no power has so far been able to extirpate.

(2) That this intuitive knowledge conforms to objective reality, is borne out by, the fact that whenever this knowledge has influenced human life, it has had beneficial results.

(3) That in order to manifest itself in his practical life, man’s intuitive knowledge has always required external stimuli. The stimuli have consisted of the advent of the Prophets (peace be on them), the revelation of the Heavenly Books, and the striving of those who have tried to follow them and invite others to do the same.

It is for this reason that the Qur’an has been designated as ‘reminder’ and ‘admonition. What this suggests is that the Prophets, the Heavenly Books and those who invite people to the truth do not seek to provide human beings with something new, something which exists outside of them. Their task rather consists of bringing to the surface and rejuvenating what is latent, though dormant, in man himself. Throughout the ages man has always positively responded to this ‘Reminder’. This, itself is testimony to the fact that it is embodied in a knowledge which has always been recognized by man’s soul.

Forces arising from ignorance and obscurantism, lust and bigotry, and the erroneous teachings and promptings of devils – human as well as jinn – have always attempted to suppress, conceal, and distort the fact that the truth preached by the Prophets is embedded in man’s soul.

These attempts gave rise to polytheism, atheism, religious misdirection and moral corruption. Despite the combined efforts of the forces of falsehood, however, this knowledge has always had an imprint on the human heart. Hence, whenever any effort was made to revive that knowledge, it has proved successful. Doubtlessly those who are bent on denying the truth can resort to a great deal of sophistry in order to deny or at least create doubt and confusion about the existence of this knowledge. However on the Day of Resurrection the Creator will revive in man the memory of the first assembly when man made his covenant with Allah and accepted Him as his Only Lord. On that occasion Allah will provide evidence to the effect that the covenant always remained imprinted on man’s soul. He will also show how from time to time man tried to suppress his inner voice which urged him to respond to the call of the covenant; how again and again his heart pressed him to affirm the truth; how his intuition induced him to denounce the errors of belief and practice; how the truth ingrained in his soul tried to express itself and respond to those who called to it; and how on each occasion he lulled his inner self to sleep because of his lust and bigotry.

However a Day will come when man will no longer be in a position to put forth specious arguments to justify his false claims. That will be the Day when man will have no option but to confess his error. It will then be impossible for people to say that they were ignorant, or negligent. In the words of the Qur’an: ‘…and they will bear witness against themselves that they had disbelieved’ (6: 130).

The complete picture of the story of mankind in eternity

When Allah created paradise and hell, He showed them to his creatures and offered them an eternal place in paradise. But the offer was tagged with a strict condition, they first had to spend some time in the world without being able to see Him. All they were supposed to do was to obey His orders, worship Him, and submit to Him without seeing Him.

Governance of the world was to be temporarily handed over in trust to the beings who accepted this challenge. The beings who accepted the challenge had to show that despite being the empowered rulers they were ready to obey Him without seeing Him. Those who used this authority and free will correctly were to be rewarded with the eternal company of Allah in the paradise whereas those who failed this test were to face punishment in the hell.

What happened then?

All beings got scared and stepped back. The reason was that the Paradise was beautiful but the Hell was equally terrifying! Who in his right mind would present himself for such a trial? The emotional humans opted for this test. But, the decision to go through the test from Allah was taken by the collective soul of the entire humanity. Thus, it was a pre-requisite for Allah’s ultimate standard of justice to create every single human being and ask directly about the extent of the test he or she was willing to undergo. This happened because Allah is not unfair to anyone, not even in the smallest way. That is why he first created all human beings and then unveiled his complete scheme of the test to them.

Obviously, majority of the human beings were already prepared to take this test. Thus, they agreed to it being fully aware of its implications. However, for those humans who refused to take such a risk, the Almighty decided that they would take up the role of those children who die before reaching maturity. The same children will then become serving boys and girls in the paradise.

Did the rest of the humanity agree to such a tough trial?

Allah showed his ultimate benevolence even in this matter. As we are aware, not everyone is tested in the same manner in the world. Each individual chose his or her trial that day. Those who had a lot of resolve chose the times of the prophets for their test. Their test was to believe in and support the prophets during those eras of widespread ignorance. The prime condition for their success was that they had to stand firm even in the face of worst opposition, to remain steadfast despite all kinds of challenges and to pass on the message of their prophets to other people. That is why there was a huge reward for them in the hereafter; however, in case they denied and rejected the prophets, they had to face a severe punishment as they had the benefit of direct guidance by the prophets. Examples of such people include Abu-Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, on one hand, and people like Abu-Lahab on the other hand who was one of the worst enemies of the truth.
The second, and lower, level of the test is whereby people chose to become part of the nations of the prophets after the prophets had passed away. Their test is to protect themselves from going astray, sectarianism, deviations, and ignorance of later times while holding steadfast to the divine law. They are also expected to promote good deeds and to help stop people from bad deeds. Those responsibilities are assigned to them as they have the teachings of the prophets to turn to for guidance, and because they are born as Muslims.

Therefore, they do not have to pass through difficult trials to recognize the right path. It also meant that they have more guidance available to them compared to other people; hence, they have greater opportunities to reap rewards. But in case of negligence, their accountability is to be very tough as well. Muslims belong to this group.
The third group comprises of people who selected an even easier test. They are born in circumstances where they do not have access to any direct guidance from the prophets. Their test is based on the innate divine guidance present in the nature of every human being, that is, a test based on belief in Oneness of his Lord and universal moral values. Unlike Muslims, they are not subject to the tough trials of following the divine law nor of the companionship of prophets through arduous times. Obviously, their accountability is also going to be quite lenient; accordingly their risk of facing dire punishments is also low and the opportunity to reap great rewards for them is also less.

What about the prophets?

They were the ones who decided to take the toughest test. That is why they received direct guidance from Allah and the criterion for their accountability was extremely strict too. We are well aware of what happened to Prophet Jonah. He had not committed a sin; he had only reached an incorrect conclusion and acted upon it without divine approval. As a consequence, the Almighty locked him up in the belly of a fish.

No risk no gain.

The real principle that works for all of the groups is the same. Those who received more guidance will face stricter accountability and consequently, will reap either greater reward or worse punishment. Those who received lesser guidance will face lighter accountability and therefore lesser rewards or punishment. However, the decision about which of the three groups each human being belonged to was taken by human beings themselves and was not decided by the Almighty. This implies that if one received more guidance in the world, it is at his/her own request. As a consequence he/she is a candidate for high level of success as well as equally severe punishment. It means he/she has taken a huge risk and the rule that ever works is – No risk No gain.”


Polytheism, disbelief and apostasy are indeed grave crimes; however, no human being can punish another human being for these crimes. This is the right of Allah alone. In the hereafter too, He will punish them for these crimes and in this world it is He who does so if He intends. In this world, this punishment takes place in the following manner: when the Almighty decides to reward and punish people in this very world on the basis of their deeds, He sends His messenger towards them. This messenger conclusively communicates the truth to these people such that they are left with no excuse before Allah to deny it. After that the verdict of Allah is passed and those people who even after the conclusive communication of the truth insist on disbelief and polytheism are punished in this world. This is an established practice of Allah which the Qur’an describes in the following words: “And for each community, there is a messenger. Then when their messenger comes, their fate is decided with full justice and they are not wronged, (10:47))”. Its nature is the same as of the sacrifice of Ishmael (PBUH) and the incident of Khidr. It is not related to us human beings. Just as we cannot drill a hole in the boat of a poor person to help him and cannot kill a disobedient boy nor embark upon slaughtering any of our sons on the basis of a dream as Abraham (PBUH) did, similarly, we cannot undertake this task except if a revelation comes from Allah or if He directly gives an order. Everyone knows that the door to this has permanently been closed.

PS: I am not a scholar nor do I am familiar with art of writing. I have studied science and engineering to earn my living. I don’t have linguistic skill for an impressive style of writing. In my simple writing above, I did use the texts from few scholars without mentioning their names because I believe the message in the content is important not the name of a writer or the orator. I firmly believe that any ideology that promotes terror in a society can be outright rejected using common sense bestowed by our Lord; one doesn’t need to go through volumes of scriptures to disapprove such crimes.
I have tried to address only the approach of honorable Rohit Sir, without much attempt to counter specific parts of the content of his impressive writing with quotations from translations of Qur’an and its commentaries. I did so because it is crystal clear to me that he has opened the holy book (translations) to prove his case which probably he found in studies of the hard line writers on Islam. Rohit Sir, for your own sake, please don’t open the translations and commentaries of the holy book until you develop an urge from inside to seek the truth. […. Allah leads astray many and guides many to the right way by the same thing and He leads astray only those who disobey Allah. Qur’an 2:26]
Now, it reminds me of the movie PK where Amir Khan talks about ‘Dwi bhagwan, ek woh jis ne ham sabko banaya aur ek woh jis ko ham ne banaya’. Islam is a reality, but there are different models spread around with brands like, ‘soft’, ‘moderate’, ‘hard’, ‘extreme’, ‘terror’ etcetera. If a common man gets confused; surely his confusion will be taken into account by his Lord. Rohit Sir, you are not just another common man. You represent a sincere class of intellectuals in our society. I have an earnest personal request to you to ponder and study with a pure intention to find the truth for your own success in post interval eternity.

There is a mosque near the building I live. Every evening a Hindu lady in executive outfit, while coming back from her job passes by; stops for a while, takes out her shoes, bows down in respect and touches a corner of the walls of masjid in her own gesture of worship. Whom does she worship; clay bricks or her Lord? I don’t want to ask this question to Imam (prayer leader) of my mosque. Because I fear, his answer may not be the same as what Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) said, “Its knowledge is with my Lord (Quran 20:52)”.

With sincere regards and good wishes,

[Shakeel Ashraf]