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

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]

Quran and violence 3: Jihad, idolaters and infidels

January 13, 2015

Rohit Dhankar

(Continued from part 2)

What I have posted so far, including this post, is open to some serious charges of deliberate misinterpretation and/or bias. Some of them could be: (i) Particularly fundamentalist translations are used. (ii) The verses are cherry-picked, and those which show Quran in better light are ignored. (iii) Quotations are given almost without any analysis. And, (iv) that the verses supposed to be revealed in particular context are presented as universal principles. I will deal with these charges in the next post (tomorrow), because some material (by the way of examples) is needed before one can make any case on these issues.

Jihad, idolaters and infidels

Verse 2:190 states “And fight in the Way of Allah those who fight you, but transgress not the limits. Truly, Allah likes not the transgressors.” [NQ] This is a much debated verse. Some emphasise “fight in the way of Allah”, indicating fight for religious purposes. Others remind “those who fight you, but transgress not”; therefore, it is a verse sanctioning fighting a defensive war.

The explanation offered by Noble Quran [NQ], however, clearly sides with the first interpretation. NQ’s explanation is worth quoting in full. First, it states that “[T]his Verse is the first one that was revealed in connection with jihad, but it was supplemented by another (9:36)”. We will have a look at 9:36 presently. But before that the meaning and importance of Jihad should be understood as per NQ: “Al-Jihad (holy fighting) in Allah’s Cause (with full force of numbers and weaponry) is given the utmost importance in Islam and is one of its pillars (on which it stands). By Jihad Islam is established, Allah’s Word is made superior, (His Word being La ilaha illallah which means none has the right to be worshipped but Allah), and His Religion (Islam) is propagated. By abandoning Jihad (may Allah protect us from that) Islam is destroyed and the Muslims fall into an inferior position: their honour is lost, their lands are stolen, their rule and authority vanish. Jihad is an obligatory duty in Islam on every Muslim, and he who tries to escape from this duty, or does not in his innermost heart wish to fulfil this duty, dies with one of the qualities of a hypocrite.


Narrated ‘Abdullah bin Masud: I asked Allah’s Messenger, “O Allah’s Messenger! What is the best deed?” He replied, “To offer the (prayers) at their early fixed stated times.” I asked, “What is next in goodness?” He replied, “To be good and dutiful to your parents.” I further asked, “What is next in goodness?” He “To participate in Jihad in Allah’s Cause.” I did not ask Allah’s Messenger anymore and if I had asked him more, he would have told me more. (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol.4, Hadith No.41).” [Emphasis added]

This explanation does not leave any doubt that: (i) jihad is not some internal purification as far as this verse is concerned, it has to be fought with ‘full numbers and weaponry’, this is a duty, so no deviating interpretation is allowed. (ii) It is not a defensive war, but one to make Allah’s word and Islam supreme, which means nothing else can be worshipped. (iii) Jihad is at the least third best deed for a Muslim, after offering regular prayers and looking after one’s parents.

But there are other interpretations. We should have a look at the least at one of them. TuQ explains in footnote 266 that the call to fight is given to Muslims (O Muslims!). Then goes on to explain in footnote 267 that “in the way of Allah” refers to “in the cause of His true Religion; in the cause of truth, justice, equity and humanity. To combat the dark forces of polytheism, superstition, perfidy, irreligion, and religious persecution, and not for the greed of booty or for self-aggrandisement, nor yet to extend the ‘sphere of influence’ of this country or that. Is the extermination of moral evil, in any sense, an unworthy object of war?” [Emphases added]

This is an interesting explanation. It first lists “the cause of truth, justice, equity and humanity” which are very much acceptable as good cause to struggle for, even if not for war. But then gives another list “the dark forces of polytheism, superstition, perfidy, irreligion, and religious persecution”. Polytheism clearly indicates the agenda; and it is implied that superstition, perfidy and irreligion can be stemmed by monotheism only. Now, if a war could be waged to eradicate polytheism then the definitions of justice, equity and humanity cannot remain as they are supposed to be in the modern world. Nor can ‘religious persecution’ be understood as ‘lack of freedom to practice one’s own religion’, as the war itself is against a religious idea, namely polytheism. The whole passage looks like either an eyewash or an alternative discourse which defines justice etc. in its own manner, which is unknown to unbelievers and infidels. And, it does not take the position that the jihad is not general against all polytheists, in all lands and all times. The verse may have come in the local context of fighting a religious war with Makkans, later in this article we have to look at the attempts to draw universal eternal principle from contextual commands.

The next verse is clearly in connection with the fight between the believers and people of Makka. 2:191 And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah is worse than killing. And fight not with them at Al-Masjid-al-haram (the sanctuary at Makkah), unless they (first) fight you there. But if they attack you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers.”

Al-Fitnah is translated in various ways. NQ explains it as “polytheism, to disbelieve after one has believed in Allah, or a trial or a calamity or an affliction” at one place; the meaning in the next verse makes it more general “disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah”. TuQ explains “(of irreligion and impiety). The word covers, on the part of the Makkans, a number of other such crimes over and above the grossest forms of idolatry, as treachery, perfidy, wanton persecution of the Muslims, and aggression in fighting.” The centre of the meaning clearly is “polytheism”. Worshiping other beings with Allah is the real issue, rest of the ‘crimes’ are just additional reasons. And as soon as this meaning is given, the call to fight becomes universal against “al-fitnah”.

Therefore, it is necessary to “fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah) and (all and every kind of) worship is for Allah (Alone). But if they cease, let there be no transgression except against Az-Zalimun (the polytheists, and wrong-doers).” [NQ, 2:193] This verse makes it clear that even if ‘they’—whomsoever they may be—cease fighting, the war against polytheists must go on.

The verse 9:36, mentioned above demands “…so wrong not yourselves therein, and fight against the Mushrikun (polytheists, pagans, idolaters, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah) collectively as they fight against you collectively. But know that Allah is with those who are AI-Muttaqun (the pious).” The verse 9:38 admonishes those who “when … asked to march forth in the Cause of Allah (i.e. Jihad) you cling heavily to the earth? Are you pleased with the life of this world rather than the Hereafter? But little is the enjoyment of the life of this world as compared to the Hereafter.” And warns them (9:39) if you march not forth, He will punish you with a painful torment and will replace you by another people; and you cannot harm Him at all, and Allah is Able to do all things.” A believer who does not march willingly in jihad will get “painful torment”. And will be replaced with another people.

Hadith supports this idea. Narrated Anas bin Malik: The Prophet said, “Nobody who dies and finds good from Allah (in the Hereafter) would wish to come back to this world, even if he were given the whole world and whatever is in it except the martyr who, on seeing the superiority of martyrdom would like to come back to the world and get killed again (in Allah’s Cause).” (Sahih AI·BukhM, Vol.4, Hadith No.53-A).” [NQ]

One can make a much bigger list of verses of this nature, but perhaps it is not needed. If this does not sanction violence against polytheists and unbelieves one does not know what would?


Double standards in understanding communalism?

April 11, 2014

Rohit Dhankar

[This one was send as a rejoinder to an article published in The Hindu. Their response is “as a policy we don’t carry rejoinder to opinion pieces. If there are factual inaccuracies we will be happy to correct them. Thanks for writing.” I am not a regular writer for newspapers, so can easily understand the lack of tightness in language and even argument; but it is strange that rejoinders to ‘opinion’ pieces are not published!]

Mrs. Sonia Gandhi recently has expressed a communal mind-set that believes that appeal to en-block voting to Muslims is ‘secular’ and a similar appeal to Hindus is communal. The general principle here is that Hindu communalism is communalism proper; and Muslim communalism, if not secular, is certainly a reaction. This thinking has been exhibited time and again by almost all so-called ‘secular’ parties. Is this mind-set and skewed logic limited to crafty politicians like Mrs. Gandhi? Unfortunately, by no means, Indian intelligential is the biggest and strongest up-holder of this un-defendable principle. To understand how subtly they built it into their thinking and writing let us analyse a recently published article by Praveen Swami. Mr. Swami wrote an article in The Hindu, on 1st April 14, titled “Second Rise of Indian Jihad”. (Here I must add that in past Mr. Swami has written fine and very balanced insightful pieces, the present analysis is only for the mentioned article; not on his all writings.) Its concluding wisdom is summarised by Mr. Swami as: “Each bombing the Indian Mujahideen carries out is a medium for a political message enmeshed with India’s dystopic communal landscape: that democratic politics cannot defend India’s Muslims.” This complex sentence needs simpler unpacking, to go beyond its impressiveness and deliberate scholarship. Let’s make some sense out of it:
1. Each bombing of Indian Mujahedeen is a medium for a political message. It is not senseless violence, and it is not important in-itself. It should be ‘read’ as a ‘medium’, like email is a medium for a message, bombing is a medium for a political message.
2. This message is caught in the landscape of human misery created by communalism. So the bombing is not irrational act of some sick religious bigotry. It is a rational act aimed at ending the human misery caused by communal violence.
3. The message itself is “that democratic politics cannot defend Indian Muslims”. And this message is acceptable to Indian intelligentsia of which Mr. Swami is a noted member.

This is a classic case of absolving Islamic terrorism of all moral responsibility and condoning it. Always someone else is responsible, the poor Islamist terrorist simply acts out of misery to end it. S/he is not a perpetrator of violence, s/he is only resisting violence inflicted on her. S/he is justified to do so as a human being. The ‘other’ who has instigated, nay forced him/her into it, should be blamed, and should be held responsible to stop this violence.

This conclusion occurs in the last paragraph of Mr. Swami’s piece with a nashihat to Indian politicians: “but it is time for politicians to act to heal our fractured nation.” This is strange that material quoted in Mr. Swami’s article to arrive at this fantastic conclusion goes squarely against it and lends itself to a very different conclusion. It is an exercise in mental dexterity to find a logic so that the quoted material may support Mr. Swami’s conclusion.

Let’s look at the key landmarks in Mr. Swami’s logic, I am paraphrasing parts from his article below.
Mr. swami tells us that the cadres of Indian jihad “are inheritors of a long political tradition”. That the bombings of 2008 September in Delhi, according to their perpetrators were carried “in the memory of two most eminent Mujahids of India: Syed Ahmed Shaheed and Shah Ismail Shaheed (may Allah bestow His Mercy upon them) who had raised the glorious banner of Jihad against the disbelievers.” It is notable that the jihad of Syed Ahmed and Shah Ismail was “against the disbelievers” and was carried out in early part of the 19th century, against Sikh Army, in Swat valley. Against what grievances and to alleviate what misery, apart from existence of disbelievers on God’s earth, Mr. Swami must know.

Mr. Swami quotes Yoginder Sikand approvingly: “that Islam alone was the solution to the problems of not just the Muslims of India, but of all Indians and, indeed, of the whole world.” “Islam alone” is notable, nothing else can solve the problems. Compare it with a Bombay based popular preacher Dr. Zakir Naik who says that Islam is a religion of peace and peace will come when all accept Islam. The interpretation being that peace can come only if all accept Islam. Till then if there is no peace, it is responsibility of those infidels who do not accept the only true faith.

Another important information and a chain in his logic that Mr. swami provides us is that “Ranchi resident Haider Ali, …, raised volunteers … for the bombing of the revered Buddhist shrine at Bodh Gaya last year, as an act of vengeance for communal violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority.” (Emphasis added) One starts thinking what the Buddhist shrine in Bodh Gaya had to do with communal violence in Myanmar? But that is a question only a small minded communal person can ask, as all opinion makers in India know that Muslims of the world; according to Islamist’s mind, even if a common peace loving Muslim does not believe that; are a unified umma and any act against the umma can be avenged by killing any non-believer in the world. So, of course, Mr. Swami wants us to believe that Bombing in Bodh Gaya was a legitimate “medium for a political message”, which Indian politicians and citizens should heed, and ‘heel’.

According to Mr. Swami “[T]he recruits” for the jihad “include young people, their minds fired by Internet Islamism, as well as veterans once linked to the proscribed Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).” One needs only ten minutes on the net to see the true face of Internet Islamism. It is daily preached by Zakir Naik, ‘Islam if the only true religion, all others will go to hell. Those who do not accept Islam are the real cause of violence in the world’. SIMI was established in 1977 and, among other things “SIMI maintains that concepts of secularism, democracy and nationalism, keystones of Indian Constitution, are antithetical to Islam. They aim to restore the supremacy of Islam through the resurrection of the khilafat, emphasis on the Muslim ummah and the waging of jihad.” And all this to solve all the problems of the world by the only true faith. Which violence perpetrated on Muslims would Mr. Swami site for this?

The article is opened with a very revealing quote by an al-Qaeda ideologue Asim Umar: “[Y]ou who have ruled India for eight hundred years, you who lit the flame of the one true God in the darkness of polytheism: how can you remain in your slumber when the Muslims of the world are awakening?….. If the youth of the Muslim world have joined the battlefields with the slogan ‘Sharia or Martyrdom,’ and put their lives at stake to establish the Caliphate, how can you lag behind them? Why is there no storm in your ocean”. And suggests that some among the Indian Muslim youth are inspired by this kind of appeals.

And in the face of all this mentioned in the same article Mr. Swami, in his infinite wisdom, concludes that this zeal for bombing is “driven by communal events”, obviously by Hindus against Muslims! To quote: “The renewal of a jihadist constituency within India shouldn’t be a surprise: the rise of Mr. Modi, and the Hindu nationalist tendencies that he represents, has unleashed existential anxieties among large numbers of Indian Muslims.” Therefore, the ‘Hindu nationalist tendencies’ are to blame. Which communal violence was being avenged by jihad of Syed Ahmed in early 19th century? Why his jihad was more morally acceptable than anything else going on at that time? Why Islamists today are justified to glorify this jihad against “disbelievers” while other religious bigots would be wrong to do the same? Would avenging Somnath not be justified by the same logic?

It is important to understand this logic. What are the assumptions that Mr. Swami has necessarily to accept if he wants to come to his wise conclusion: “that democratic politics cannot defend Indian Muslims” and bombing is a political message to that effect incited by violence against Muslims? He necessarily has to accept that:
1. The bigoted miniscule fringe in Islam has the right based on their tradition to wage jihad against disbelievers.
2. The violence that happens in this jihad, even if not acceptable, is sympathetically understandable.
3. But the communal violence against this jihad is the cause of fresh rounds of jihad, and therefore, should be condemned.

Are these assumptions acceptable to silent Indian majority? Would people like Mr. Swami openly defend these assumptions or they will simply keep on using them un-articulated but in a clever manner? Is Mr. Swami aware that accepting his logic provides very sound arguments for Hindutva brigade? The logic in a nutshell can be expressed as:
• Since Mahmud Ghazni the Islam has been attacking Hinduism in various ways.
• At the least since Maulana Shirhindi’s reaction of separation from Hindus as a reaction to Akbar’s Deen-e-ilahi the idea of keeping clear of Hindus and if possible subjugating them was available to some Muslims.
• The jihad waged by Syed Ahmed in early 19th century was a part of the same pattern and tradition of annihilating all disbelievers.
• Sir Syed Ahmed khan’s two nation theory was directed against Hindus and finally divided the nation. It was part of the same pattern to make the whole world accept Islam or not to live in harmony with others.
• The modern day proclamations of likes of Zakir Naik are manifestations of the same tendencies.
• Islamist bombing is driven by this idea and wherever Muslims see a political conflict (a natural occurring in any democratic polity) they will invoke religion and rather than peaceful democratic negotiations will start bombing.
• Therefore, Hindus are under direct attack of this Islamisation project. If they want to save themselves—the existential anxiety—they have to unite and counter this violence. If they do not have expertise in bombing, let them have large scale communal violence.
• Therefore, they can be condoned and need healing, recommended by Mr. Swami.

Are we ready to accept this logic? Obviously not, it is all poisonous and product of a sick mind. Then why not the jihadi logic also a product of a sick mind? Why jihadi violence should be condoned, why others should be held responsible for this, why others should be charged with the responsibility of healing this sickness? Why should it not be pointed out that all this logic of revenge is wrong and the perpetrators are responsible; they should heal themselves of this skewed mind-set?
This kind of always available condoning and explaining-away the jihadi acts will strengthen a similar logic in Hindu communalists. And there is a difference in ‘explanation’ and ‘explaining away’; the above mentioned trend of opinion making does not ‘explain’ it ‘explain away’.

Overwhelming majority of Indian population consists of two major religions: Hinduism and Islam. Hinduism by many is considered a conglomerate of many religious sects rather than a single religion. Islam is more often considered a single religion in the classic sense of the term ‘religion’, but does have its own sects and factions. Here, without getting into this fine distinction, I am treating both as religious groups.

Both these religious groups have their bigoted lunatic fringes. The fringe elements have a mind-set of victim-hood and vengeance. They also feel threatened by the other and want to gather strength to contain, if not to annihilate the other. Support and sympathy to the extremist fringes from within their respective communities is a matter of speculation, there are no hard data to say one has greater support then the other. But condoning and explaining-away their heinous acts by Indian intellectuals clearly has a pattern. The Hindu communalist is recognised for what he is, a communalist; but mostly a Muslim communalist is seen and defended as a victim.

Unless we treat each one of them fairly and as equally condemnable, we will strengthen the rivalry by comparison, the fringes will grow. The healing has to be two pronged: kind and humane treatment by the state and calling a spade a spade. The idea of India as a Hindu-rashtra has to be condemned and firmly put down. This idea has to be shown morally wrong, politically unviable, theoretically stupid and totally unacceptable. But simultaneously the ideas of universal Islamism, Caliphate and establishing Shariya as the universal code have to be condemned, shown morally bankrupt, politically impossible and theoretically stupid.

The second cannot be done without bringing in their religious figures (mythological and historical); be that Manu, Rama, Krishna or Muhammad; in the debate and showing that ideas associated with them might be unacceptable, wrong and morally debased, as well as some of them might be very laudable. The historical sheen from their persona has to be taken off and they have to be shown as ordinary mortals which are fallible and can be wrong, even severely condemnable. Similarly the principles articulated in their religious scriptures; be that Gita, Veda, Manusmriti, Quran or Hadith collections; have to be analysed and their untenable defence and soft interpretation have to be abandoned. If there is bigotry and in today’s world morally unacceptable ideas in them in them, it has to be shown clearly and status of God’s word has to be declared as bunkum for all. This has no value in public affairs and politics; however essential it may be for the believers.

Thus three principles that can help us remain secular and contain religious bigotry are:
1. Equal treatment to all perpetrators of communal disharmony and violence.
2. An unforgiving rational critique of their religious books and religious figures. Creation of an environment of tolerance of genuine criticism; even if that makes them angry at first.
3. Kind but non-condoning and firm treatment to bring sense to the misguided. Zero tolerance for the seriously indoctrinated bigots.

Mrs. Gandhi’s and Mr. Swami’s ways of thinking and acting will increase communalism and will not combat it.
In the vitiated atmosphere of India today, I feel compelled to state that no mention of BJP, VHP, Modi, RSS etc. does not mean that they have been paragons of communal harmony and that they are not to blame, or that they are any less responsible. It their divisive politics and hate mongering is generally accepted, and rightly so. They are not mentioned here for the simple reason that this piece is a response to Mr. Swami’s article, and not a general analysis of roots and kinds of communalism in India. Reading support or condoning of BJP etc. in this again will be an example of the same skewed logic used by Mr. Swami in arriving at his untenable conclusions.