[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 https://rohitdhankar.com/. 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,
While I always respond readily to many of Rohit’s post, the topic of religion has never promoted me to respond because I believe religion is deeply personal. Also unlike Rohit, I am not knowledgeable in any of the religious or holy books and unlike Shakeel Ashraf I am not a devoted follower of any religion.
But this dialogue has reminded me of a passage that I would listen to every day in my childhood thanks to my mother – The introduction by Rajagopala Chari, of the Bhaja Govindam Hymn rendered by M S Subbulakshmi (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2pe6l5tAhQ) . It is essentially about Gyana (Knowledge) and Bhakti (Devotion) , which he says are one and the same.
Perhaps, stripped of devotion if one seeks knowledge from the holy books, one can find it. Be it violence, peace, love or hatred…..
Thank you Shakeel Ashraf for bringing context and meaning to these words which have been cemented in my head.
Hi Bindu; so nice to read your thought. I don’t have any objection to this concept that religion is deeply personal. However if one has something good deep inside him, why shouldn’t he bring it out to benefit others? Knowing (Gyan) is believing. If one knows truth he will believe in truth; if what he knows is false his belief will be in falsehood. This way, not knowing or knowing false are both harmful. Man puts his efforts in seeking anything that he needs. His needs may be material as well as spiritual. Knowing truth is his spiritual need. If a book is really holy, surely it will deliver benefits if his intention of study is to seek the truth. And bottom line is ……. Man’s devotion (Bhakti) must be to truth not to falsehood.
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