Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Four Quls: al Mu'awwidhatayn, Chapters On Seeking Refuge (3/3)

In Part 1, we have seen how Rodwell thinks that Quran arrangement is gibberish, and he sets out to correct it.  In Part 2, we have seen how Jeffrey attempts to discredit the authenticity of the Quran that we presently have, claiming that it has been tempered like other scriptures.

In this part, we shall try to understand what exactly they are trying to do, what might be their motives, and how these relate to surahs al Mu’awwidhatayn.

Let’s try to uncover their motive first.  One Internet site by the name answering-islam.org seems to provide at least some of the clues.

On the topic, Contradictions in the Quran, the opening paragraph of the above site says:

We do not reject the Qur'an because of this list of contradictions. There are many reasons of much more substantial nature why we do not believe the Qur'an to be from the one true God... This page is not intended as an attack on the Qur'an. Sadly, many Muslims have become unnecessarily aggravated because they did not understand the purpose of this collection.

Sounds good so far, but the author of the above article (who wish to remain anonymous) does have an issue with the Muslims.  He says:

Muslim web sites abound in articles and collections attacking the integrity of the Bible by means of contradiction lists. Many have the attitude that "because the Bible is riddled with contradictions, errors, absurdities and problems, there is no need for me to make the effort to understand it." With such an attitude no real dialog can develop.

Now we know what is the issue.  The above author does not like our "attitude."  He then proceeds by delineating the problems that he has with this “attitude,” which for the sake of brevity, need not be quoted.  The author then continues:

If both sides can come to the recognition that their own book, the scripture which is the basis of their faith, be it the Bible or the Qur'an, contains some very difficult passages which might even look like plain errors or logical contradictions (depending on the level of hostility employed when looking at it), then we might be more forgiving towards the other and be motivated to not judge prematurely but to make a serious effort to understand each of the books and the essential teachings of the respective faith in a deeper way before we come to a decision why we do or do not believe them. (1)

Ah, it is not really about our "attitude" then.  The bone of contention is our refusal to recognize our Holy Scripture to be flawed, just like theirs.  

But anyone who is familiar with the Bible Study would know that the Bible has been proven NOT to be the words of God.  The Christian scholars have already admitted as much.  They still believe Bible to be the words of God, though, but not the exact words of God, for the Bible has been tempered with scribal errors over time.  In other words, they believe the meaning and the intent of the Bible are what God has intended, although its words are not exactly His.

The above author is irritated and incensed because, not only that the Muslims refuse to recognize that the passages in Bible are indeed what God has intended, although its wordings may not have been exactly how God has worded them, but the Muslims are also adamant in claiming that their Quran contains the exact Words of God, has not been tempered with, and without any contradiction whatsoever.

It sounds more like being envious, is it not?

Since the Bible has been tempered with, and there is no way they can prove that it contains the genuine words of Gods, much less to correct it, because the Original has been lost, the Quran too, must be the same.  Any claim to the contrary only shows that the Muslims are incorrigible, arrogant, and incapable of admitting that the Quran too has been tempered with human errors, though none of these is done with ill intention.

If we ponder about it, we must say that they have every reason to be envious.  They know that they cannot claim the words in their Scripture to be authentic, exactly as revealed by God Himself, but we can.  And they have admitted that their Scripture has been tempered with during the compilation, but we have no ground to admit as such, because we know that the Quran has been preserved as it should have been preserved, the way God has intended.  Since they are humble enough to admit scribal or whatever errors have crept into their Scripture, they are quick to label us as being arrogant when we insist that our Quran contains no error.

It is this envy that has led them to attempt to discredit Islam by reducing Quran to the status of their Bible in the most subtle way.  In the process, they have managed to gain some influence among the so-called Muslims, which is why Allah asks us to seek refuge with Him so as to be protected from their envy and their conspiracy. 

Which is what al Mu’awwidhatayn is all about.

In al Falaq, Surah 113, Allah says:

Say: "I seek refuge in the Lord of Daybreak, [1] From the evil of that which He created; [2] From the evil of the darkness when it is intense, [3] And from the evil of the witchcrafts when they blow in the knots, [4] And from the evil of the envier when he envies.” [5]

In an Nas, Surah 114, Allah says

Say, “I seek refuge with the Lord of mankind, [1] The King of mankind, [2] The God of mankind, [3] From the evil of the whisperer who withdraws, [4] The one who whispers in the hearts of mankind, [5] From among the Jinn or Mankind.” [6]

Surah al Falaq is about seeking protection from the witchcraft or from the envier who envies.  In practice, these two are generally inseparable.  The witchcraft is usually performed by a witchdoctor upon the request from the envier who envies with what his friends, adversaries or competitors have. 

As we know, the black magic works on mind and perception, which has the effect on the body.  In the surah above, they recite whatever mantra required and blow in the knots, pretty much like the witchcraft or voodoo as currently performed.  The Surah asks us to seek refuge from this evil by reciting it.

As al Mu’awwidhatayn are said to be revealed together, there is a remarkable connection between these two surahs as far as our current observation is concerned.

While Surah al Falaq talks about the black magic, Surah an Nas talks about the “white magic.”  The “white magic” in question is the Arabic word “waswas”, translated as “whisper” in Verse 5 above.  “Waswas” of course is not “white magic.”  It is generally translated as “whisper” or “conspire” with the intent to create doubt, but its effect has been magical, as we shall see shortly. 

The Malays also use this word in their vocabularies, but with a very confined meaning.  When they are not sure whether something has already been done, or already happened, or in fact hasn’t, then they are in the state of doubt.  This state of doubt is called “waswas.”  For instance, they are being “waswas” (in the state of doubt) about the number of cycles in their prayer, whether they have performed three or four cycles already.  And they attribute this forgetfulness to the “whisper” of the Devil who put doubts into their hearts.

This is one meaning of “waswas,” but a very confined one.  The harm in that is minimal, and concerns mostly an individual.  A more harmful “waswas” is the active effort of creating doubt in the hearts and minds of the Muslims by the Orientalists and the enemies of Islam.  Among such works are the ones made by Rodwell, as we have seen in Part 1, and Jeffrey, in Part 2, of this series.

While the crafts employed by Rodwell and Jeffrey do not involve blowing the knots, they still use the mantra, either spoken or in writing, with the intent to blow the mind and create a set of perceptions which eventually lead to certain type of behaviour.  

What motivates them to do this would be anyone’s guess, but envy is definitely one of the reasons.  Since their scriptures cannot be proven to be the actual Words of God, then might as well make the Holy Scripture of Islam to be tempered with human errors as well.  Since Christianity has been successfully secularized after the Renaissance, then might as well secularize Islam as well, as their kinds have been doing with much success for the last few centuries.

Their “white magic” has succeeded in confining Islam to a mere set of beliefs or rituals.  Their works have succeeded in desanctifying and secularizing the daily life of the Muslims, which should have been governed by Syariah or Islamic Law.  Many portions of the Words of Gods and the Prophetic Traditions that govern the laws of their daily lives are abandoned, on the pretext that these are unsuitable to the modern times.

That, at least, is the impression one can gather from Surah al Falaq and an Nas combined together. 

We can seek refuge from the effect of the black magic by reciting Surah al Falaq.  We can also seek refuge from the effect of temporary doubt and forgetfulness (ordinary “waswas”) by reciting an Nas.  The harmful effects of “white magic,” devised by those who are envious and hostile to Islam, can only be sought by understanding the inherent meaning of these two surahs.  A mere recitation of them would bring no desired result. 

Incidentally, among the famous arguments made by these whisperers is that al Mu’awwidhatayn are not part of the Quran.  They are just invocations to seek refuge, as we have mentioned in the IntroductoryRemarks.  But they mention only one part of the story.  It seems that there are spurious reports containing Ibn Mas’ud’s allegation, that Surah al Falaq and Surah an Nas are not part of the Quran.  What they do not tell is that the same spurious reports also indicated that  Ibn Mas’ud had made an error, and later repented, as Sayyid Qutb explains in his famous commentary.  Al Azami devotes a whole chapter on this issue in his book, The History of the Quranic Text: from Revelation to Compilation, in case you are interested in the subject.

This concludes our remarks and observations on al Mu’awwidhatayn as well as the series of the Four Quls. 

Quotations above taken from: http://answering-islam.org/Quran/Contra/

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Four Quls: al Mu'awwidhatayn, Chapters On Seeking Refuge (2/3)

While Rodwell sets out to rearrange and reinterpret Quran according to his fancy, and in the process discredits the effort made by Zayd bin Thabit, as we have seen in Part 1, a more virulent effort is to discredit the Quran itself by desecrating it.

Allow me to make the above sentence more readable.

To the Muslims, Quran is regarded as Words of God.    All these words were preserved in the hearts of the Companions as well as in the written parchments, before they were compiled into a book by Zayd bin Thabit, under the order of the first Caliph, Abu Bakar as Siddiq.  What we have--since then up to  these days--are the exact words as revealed to the Prophet in their genuine and unadulterated form.

Since every word which makes the whole Quran is regarded as the exact Word of God, the Muslims consider every word of it to be sacred (or holy).  Thus, a mere reading of its verses, even without understanding them, is considered a good act which will be rewarded.  The Muslims would generally not touch it without having an ablution, for that would be considered as disrespectful.  If the Quran needs to be destroyed for whatever reason, they would not tear or shred the pages, but would instead burn them.  This is to avoid the Quran from being thrown into a dumpsite and mixed with filthy things.

It short, the whole Quran is considered sacred, including the printed verses on the papers, because they are the exact Words of God which need to be respected.

Desecrating means taking the sacred out of the Quran.

How this is done?

By putting doubt into the authenticity of the Quran, saying that in the process of compiling it, the original Words of Gods have been lost due to many variations that had been in existence when Zayd compiled it.  Thus, what we have is only the version as compiled by Zayd, which is allegedly not agreed upon by all companions.  The present Quran is still considered as the words of God, but not the exact ones.  They are only “mirrors” to the Original Words of God.  Since these words are only mirrors, they are not, in themselves, sacred.  And since they are not sacred, they don’t have to be treated with such reverence, much less to be taken literally and verbatim.

The efforts to discredit the authenticity of the Quran have been going on since the advent of Islam itself.  In our times, one of the leading protagonists is an Orientalist by the name Arthur Jeffery. 

It is not the scope of this article to talk about this subject per se, but an allusion to Jeffrey’s work would be handy to illustrate my present purpose, which is an observation (rather than a commentary) on al Mu’awwidathtayn.

In his lecture, “The Textual History of the Qur'an,” Jeffrey opens his talk innocently enough: 

Wherever we find a religion that has a Scripture, that fact presents scholarship with the problem of the textual history of that Scripture. There are no exceptions to this among the historic religions.

Having said that, he proceeds by giving examples on the Scriptures of  Buddhism and Zoroastrianism :

In the case of Buddhism, for example, we have the problem of the Pali Canon, the Sanskrit Canon, the Tibetan Canon, and the Chinese Canon. In the case of Zoroastrianism there is the liveliest dispute among Iranian scholars at this very moment as to the Avestan text, and, as is well known, the text of the Pahlavi books is an exceedingly complicated problem.

And the problems with Biblical Scripture too:

Each generation of students for the last hundred years has found itself faced with new problems concerning the text of the Old Testament, and our own memories are still fresh with the excitement caused by the discovery of the Chester Beatty Papyri and the Ryland's Gospel fragment, both of which raised lively discussions on matters related to the textual history of the New Testament. 

Having thus described the problems with all religious scriptures, he concludes his opening paragraph by saying:

Whether we face the text of the Book of the Dead, coming from the ancient Egyptian religion, or the text of the Qur'an coming from the youngest of the great historic religions, we have the problem of the history of the text.

Now we have some ideas where he is leading to.  Since all historic religious scriptures have problems with the authenticity of their texts, the Quran too must have similar problem. Jeffrey thus proceeds:

In the case of none of the historic religions do we have the autographs of the original Scriptures. What we have in our hands are the documents that have come down in the various communities, and which have been more or less tampered with in transmission.

Read the above again, and observe that Jeffrey uses the word NONE.  In case you still need translation, it means that Quran is also tempered.  But to show that he means well, Jeffrey says:

This tampering does not mean tampering with evil intent; it may, indeed, have been with very good intent, but nevertheless it was tampering. The Avesta, for example, was written out in Sassanian times in a new alphabet based on the characters of Sassanian Pahlavi, and we have no knowledge whatever of what the original Avestan script was like. Similarly the Hebrew Scriptures as we know them are in the "square script", but this was not the script used when their originals were written.

After explaining how the other scriptures are tempered with, all without malice or ill intention, Jeffrey proceeds with the matter in hand:

When we come to the Qur'an, we find that our early MSS [read, handwritten manuscripts] are invariably without points or vowel signs, and are in a Kufic script very different from the script used in our modern copies. This modernizing of the script and the orthography, and the supplying the text with points and vowel signs were, it is true, well-intentioned, but they did involve a tampering with the text. That precisely is our problem.

Having thus explained how the “tempering” processes took place with the Quran, Jeffrey asserts his point:

We have a received text, a textus receptus which is to be found in all the ordinary copies in popular use. It is not, however, a facsimile of the earliest Qur'an, but a text which is the result of various processes of alteration as it passed down from generation to generation in transmission within the community.

In short, just like other scriptures which are known and proven to be tempered with, the Quran too has been tempered.  What we have, therefore, is not the Original, but an adulterated version due to the alterations that were being passed down from generation to generation.

We shall end our quotation here, because the rest are mere details.  Those interested may go the source itself, which is provided below.(*)

At this point, it suffices to say that, like the accusation on the authenticity of the Quran in the old days, the contemporaneous claims have also been refuted.  The contemporary scholar, Muhammad al-Azami, has written a scholarly work on this subject.

Al- Azami’s scholarly work deserves a topic on its own, and is not the place to discuss it in this piece.  But the point to make is this.  If you read what Jeffrey says, you will notice that he has put the matter rather “innocently” and, as one might say, scholarly.  Likewise with Rodwell, as we have seen in the earlier part. 

This is the characteristic of the contemporary approach in discrediting Islam. Whatever subjects in hands, be it about Quran, Hadith, Seerah, etc., the approach appears innocent, with scholarly intonation, unlike the days of the old, whereby their scholars simply called the Muslims the infidels and the Quran as the work of an impostor. 

Their innocent and scholarly approaches, needless to say, have influenced a great many Muslims who are not aware of their agendas.  Many among the Muslims no longer believe in the authenticity of our Hadith collections.  Many more have taken out the sanctity and sacredness of the Holy Quran, regarding its passages, especially on the Syariah Law, as unsuitable to the modern times.  Quran has been desanctified, desacretized, and secularized.

But are these scholars, who are predominantly Western Christians, driven by scholarly reason?  Are they that innocent?  Could they be driven by something more sinister.

A look at one of the sites devoted to discrediting Islam and defending Christianity would reveal at least some of the reasons. 

But we shall explore that in our concluding part.

Stay tuned.


*Those who are interested with the rest of what Arthur Jeffrey says may go to this site:

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Four Quls: al Mu'awwidhatayn, Chapters On Seeking Refuge (1/3)

The last two of the Four Quls, known as al Mu’awwidhatayn, are also the last two chapters of the Quran. 

The first thing to observe is that these two surahs are about seeking protection.  The first of al Mu’awwidhatayn, al Falaq (Surah 113), is about seeking protection from something supernatural (such as black magic) and from the envy of the envier; while the second, an Nas (Surah 114), is about seeking protection from the genie (or devil) and the mankind who whisper or conspire.

It is a fitting way to end the Quran, as far as its arrangement is concerned.  The Quran opens with the prayer seeking guidance (Surah al Fatihah) and ends with seeking protection.  What a nice way to arrange the book, if we ponder about it. 

But it is perceptible only to the believers and those seeking guidance.  To the disbelievers and those who seek otherwise, the arrangement appears to be gibberish.  Worse, some claim that this arrangement is part of the sinister ways to brainwash the believers to become terrorists bent on world domination.(1)

We can ignore the second claim above, because it has no value even to the disbelievers, but the first claim, namely that the Quran is arranged in a nonsensical way, is a common view.  Even some Muslims find the arrangement somewhat odd.  What more can be expected from disbelievers.

In this regard, some have attempted to rearrange the chapters in the Quran.  I don’t find it strange when the non Muslims do it, but I have seen some “professed Muslims” make similar attempt, which say a lot about their faith. 

Anyway, let’s not get carried away too far.  Let’s straight away proceed to illustrate one example. 

Rev. J. M. Rodwell has translated and made a commentary on the Quran.  But he does more than that.  He also rearranges its chapters completely.  His translation and rearrangement is available in the Internet, in case you are curious.(2)

In the Rodwell’s translation, Surah No. 1 is no longer al Fatihah, but al Alaq, which is Surah 96 in the normal Quran.  Surah No. 2 is no longer al Baqarah but al Muddaththir (Surah 74 in normal Quran).  The two last concluding surahs are no longer al Mu’awwidhatayn, but at Tawbah (Surah 9 in normal Quran) and al Ma’idah (Surah 5 in normal Quran), respectively.

In other word, according to Rodwell, the Quran should not be opened with al Fatihah and followed by al Baqarah, and closed with al Falaq and an Nas, as have always been the case, but by al Alaq followed by al Muddaththir, and closed with at Tawbah and al Ma’idah.

But why does he think that Quran should be arranged that way?

He explains it in his Preface.  It is quite a long Preface, so I shall quote only the gist.

He opens his Preface by saying:

It is necessary that some brief explanation should be given with reference to the arrangement of the Suras, or chapters, adopted in this translation of the Koran. It should be premised that their order as it stands in all Arabic manuscripts... is not chronological...

Now we get some idea as to why he rearranges the chapters in the Quran upside down.  His foremost contention is that Quran is not arranged chronologically.  Rodwell then goes on narrating the story of Quran compilation which was performed by Zayd bin Thabit (none of substance to be quoted here), but he continues, saying:

Zaid and his coadjutors, however, do not appear to have arranged the materials which came into their hands upon any system more definite than that of placing the longest and best known Suras first, immediately after the Fatihah...although even this rule, artless and unscientific as it is, has not been adhered to with strictness.

Anything approaching to a chronological arrangement was entirely lost sight of. Late Medina Suras are often placed before early Meccan Suras; the short Suras at the end of the Koran are its earliest portions; while...verses of Meccan origin are to be found embedded in Medina Suras, and verses promulgated at Medina scattered up and down in the Meccan Suras.

In other word, Rodwell thinks that Zayd was a scribe who did not seem to know any nut or bolt about book arrangement.  Zayd seemed to arrange it by the length of the chapters: the longest first, then the shorter one.  But since this is not quite the case, for Quran is not actually arranged in that way, then Zayd, to Rodwell’s view, must have arranged it according to “first come first serve” basis.  Whatever he got first, that would be the beginning.  Or, in Rodwell’s words:

It would seem as if Zaid had to a great extent put his materials together just as they came to hand, and often with entire disregard to continuity of subject and uniformity of style. The text, therefore, as hitherto arranged, necessarily assumes the form of a most unreadable and incongruous patchwork...and conveys no idea whatever of the development and growth of any plan in the mind of the founder of Islam, or of the circumstances by which he was surrounded and influenced.

Having thus described the artless and unscientific method of Zayd’s Quranic arrangement, resulting in “a most unreadable and incongruous patchwork”, Rodwell switches his thought.  Perhaps this artless arrangement is actually Zayd’s way of being honest with his work.  Or, as Rodwell says:

It is true that the manner in which Zaid contented himself with simply bringing together his materials and transcribing them, without any attempt to mould them into shape or sequence, and without any effort to supply connecting links between adjacent verses, to fill up obvious chasms, or to suppress details of a nature discreditable to the founder of Islam, proves his scrupulous honesty as a compiler, as well as his reverence for the sacred text, and to a certain extent guarantees the genuineness and authenticity of the entire volume.

Zayd’s honesty, however, had not only make Quran unreadable, but appeared to do disservice to the Quran itself.  His methodology had inadvertently caused Quran to have many contradictions as well as inaccurate statements.  If only Zayd had been more critical:

...it is deeply to be regretted that he did not combine some measure of historical criticism with that simplicity and honesty of purpose which forbade him, as it certainly did, in any way to tamper with the sacred text, to suppress contradictory, and exclude or soften down inaccurate, statements.

Seeing thus the artlessness, unscientific and uncritical mind of Zayd, Rodwell proceeds to correct these deficiencies.  With that in mind, he continues:

The arrangement of the Suras in this translation is based partly upon the traditions of the Muhammadans themselves, with reference especially to the ancient chronological list printed by Weil in his Mohammed der Prophet, as well as upon a careful consideration of the subject matter of each separate Sura and its probable connection with the sequence of events in the life of Muhammad...

For fear that the readers would get bored, I shall stop the quotations up to this point.  Rodwell goes on and on, but the gist of it all is that Rodwell thinks Quran is a history book, and therefore should have been arranged chronologically.  And Zayd, not being a historian in the mind of Rodwell, had uncritically inserted many errors and contradictory statements in the Quran.

To Rodwell’s eyes, Zayd should have known that the Quran, which Muhammad claimed to have been revealed by God, is in fact the work based on the Jewish scriptures.  If Zayd had known histories and Jewish Scriptures, he would not have made that kind of mistakes perpetrated by Muhammad himself, who did not seem to know the Jewish Scriptures any better.  Putting it differently, had Zayd known history and Jewish Scriptures, he would have corrected the mistakes and inaccuracies made by Muhammad.

Everything that Rodwell says sounds logical and reasonable enough, if viewed from his angle.  He thinks that Quran is a book of history, which is why it should have been arranged chronologically.  He also believes that Quran is based on the Jewish scriptures.  Hence, if some of the contents do not match the Jewish scriptures, then these must be inaccurate statements. 

But Quran is not a history book; it a book of guidance.  One reads and studies it for guidance to the path that can achieve progress and harmony in this world, and salvation in the Hereafter.  One who approaches the Quran along that line would find that every time he reads it, he would find some guides in it.  No matter how many times he reads it, there will always be something “new” in it.  It is pretty much like a well that is never dried, no matter how much one extracts water from it. 

It is an acknowledged fact that since the Quran was first compiled into a book form, it is opened with Surah al Fatihah.  This Surah is a prayer, a prayer seeking guidance to be on the straight path; not the path of those who incur Allah’s wrath, nor the path led by the misguided ones.  If one is looking for a guidance to be on the straight path, then Quran is the book.  On the other hand, if one is looking for history, then he should go to history books.  In the case of early Islamic history, he should go to Seerah.

After this short prayer, al Fatihah, Quran in fact goes straight to tell what the book is all about. 

Opening with the three letters, whose meaning is known only to Allah, namely Alif, Lam, Mim, the Quran straightaway declares itself, that “this is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance to Godfearing people”  (al Baqarah: verse 2).  It then proceeds by delineating what it means by Godfearing people (the first condition is that they must be the believers), and declares that these people are the successful ones.

Then, starting from the verse 6 of al Baqarah, it talks about the opposite groups: the disbelievers  (of various kinds) and the hypocrites (also of various kinds), and declares that these are the losers.

From thereon, the rest of the Quran are the details of these, of what it means and what it takes to be the believers, and to be wary of disbelieving and hypocrisy.  These are the indispensable details by which all Muslims must know, at least the basic of them.   After, or more properly while, learning and knowing as much as they could about these details, they must practice and act upon these as well as they could. After all of these are done, the Quran concludes by telling those seeking guidance to seek protection from Allah. 

If only Rodwell accepts that Quran is book of guidance, then its arrangement would not only be logical to him, but clear as well, because it is Allah Himself who wants it arranged that way.  Zayd bin Thabit merely compiled it. 

Zayd was the best man for the job.  He was among those who had memorized Quran by heart, and knew about its arrangement, also by heart.  But the responsibility of compiling it had weighed on him enormously.  Moving a mountain would have been easier and more preferable, as Zayd himself was quoted as saying.   And Zayd was not joking.  

Moving a mountain during his time was impossible, but still it was more preferable than compiling the Quran, although he already knew it by heart.  Being a true believer, Zayd knew that if he made any mistakes, then the consequence would not only be disastrous to him as a believer, but to Islam as a whole.  That’s why he said that moving mountain would have been easier.

In any case, Zayd was not alone in doing the work.  He was assisted by his “coadjutors,” as Rodwell puts it.  And he was supervised by the leading companions, including Abu Bakar, Umar and Ali. 

Rodwell has approached the Quran wrongly.  He starts by having a wrong notion about the Quran itself.  He thinks it is a history book, and proceeds to rearrange it accordingly. He is not even successful in that endeavour, for in his own words, he says:

I have, however, placed the earlier and more fragmentary Suras, after the two first, in an order which has reference rather to their subject matter than to points of historical allusion...

Even the scholarly Rodwell sometimes has to depart from his “scientific” approach of arranging the chapters chronologically. 

As to his conjecture that Quran is based on the Jewish Scriptures, this is the common position held by the Orientalists.  We need not delve too much on this, other than saying that any similarity between the two is due to the fact that both the Quran and the Jewish Scriptures came from the same source, Allah Himself.  But the Jewish Scriptures had been badly tempered with, which had led to the many differences between the two.

As to how the study of the Quran should be approached, I find the Introduction to Al-Maudoodi’s tafsir provides an extremely good guide.  His Introduction, however, is rather too long to be quoted without losing its essentials.  Those interested may go straight to the source, with the link provided below.(3)

At this point, you may wonder as to why I write this observation vis-à-vis the last two of the Four Quls.  The answer will come in the subsequent parts.

Stay tuned.


(1)       If you are interested in the idea why Quran arrangement is designed for terrorism and world domination, here is the site:

(2)       If you are a serious reader and have time to spare, here is Rodwell’s site quoted above:   http://thriceholy.net/Texts/Rodwell_Koran.html

(3)       The Introduction to Maudoodi’s tafsir, a must read for anyone who wants to understand how to approach the study of the Quran, is available here:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Four Quls: Surah al Ikhlas and Trinity (3/3)

The Arabs and the Makkans during the pre-Islamic time were not atheists.  They believed in Allah as the supreme God, but associated other gods alongside with Him.  In fact, if asked who created the heaven and the earth, they would answer Allah (Quran 43:84-87).

Surah al Ikhlas was revealed to resolve this matter unequivocally.  Allah is one, and one only.  He is absolutely self sufficient, in need of no one to be His associates or helpers in managing His affairs, but everyone is in need of Him. 

This we have touched in the Part 2.

In Madinah, in addition to the polytheist Arabs, who lived either in the city or throughout the Arabia, he also faced the People of the Book, the Jews and the Christians.

The Jews were the first to confront Him, for many of them lived in Madinah itself.  The confrontation with the Christians came much later, after his mission had succeeded and spread as far as the border of the Roman Empire.

Being among the front runner of Tawhid, the Jews had no problem with the Oneness of God.  In fact, they were among the earlier Muslims, for their ancestor, Jacob, known as Israel, was a Muslim.  Their leading Prophet, Moses, who delivered Torah to them, was also a Muslim in the truest sense of the word. 

Like the Ishmaelite Arabs, they too descended from the Great Patriarch, Abraham the Muslim, as the Quran puts it.

Overtime, however, they made the universal God to be their exclusive God, the God of Israel.  They anthropomorphized Him, assigning human attributes to Him, depicting Him as a bearded old man, like the way the Greeks depicted their god Zeus.  The exceptions being, Zeus is the King of many gods, whereas Yahweh, the God of the Jews, is one and only God, and that only the God’s face is painted, not the whole body of a man holding a lightning rod, like Zeus is pictured.

In their tendency to attribute God in the likeness of man, a quotation from Jamaal al-Din Zarabozo would come handy.1

The New International Version of Genesis 3:8-11, reads,

8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”  10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” 11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked?  Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

Here, God is pictured as walking in the garden in the cool of the day.  What is even more astonishing is that Adam and Eve were able to hide from God and he had to ask, “Where are you?...”

In Genesis 32:24-28, there is the story and literal description of Jacob wrestling with and defeating God.  In verse 28, it says, “You [Jacob] have wrestled with God and with men, and you have won.” In other words, the creator of the universe whom mankind is expected to worship and submit to was defeated by a mere mortal in a wrestling match.

The Old Testament even pictures God as one who intended to do evil but then repented.  Exodus 32:14 states, “And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people” (King James Version).  It would not be surprising for anyone to turn away from God and not consider Him worthy of worship if He himself has to repent from His own evil.

It is with this obsession of anthropomorphizing God that the Jews came to the Prophet, asking him about the attributes of Allah, as various Traditions in Part 1 suggest.  The Prophet answered their questions, which came in various ways, by reciting Surah al Ikhlas.

Just as Surah al Ikhlas was an apt answer to the polytheist Arabs, it was also an apt answer to the Jews with their obsession of anthropomorphizing God, as if God has sex, need to eat and drink, and carries Himself like a human being.

And it was also a very apt answer to the Christians, who was obsessed with the nature of God, of what substance He was made, as the Tradition quoted in Part 1 illustrates.

Since the Godhood of Christianity is far more complex than the anthropomorphizing tendency of the Jews, we need to explore this issue with a little background.

Like Islam and Judaism, Christianity too considers itself a monotheistic religion.  Unlike Islam and Judaism, which have no problem with number, for to them God is one and only, Christianity’s notion of the oneness of the God is more problematic.  It says that God is one, but exist in three personalities: the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.  This triad makes up what they call Holy Trinity.

But since there are three personalities in the One God, questions arise as to how these three persons is actually only one God.

It would have been easier if they believe that only the Father is God, as the Jews likewise believe.  The Jews called their God Yahweh, but they address Him as Aba, meaning father.  Yahweh is the name of their God, while the Father is only the way they address Him.  There is no mistaken identity as far their God is concerned, and there is no problem with regard to His number, which is one and one only.  The only problem with the Jews is their tendency of assigning human attributes to an otherwise unique God.

Christianity is different.  While they believe the Father to be the One God, they also believe in Jesus to be the God.  They regard him as the Son of God.  On top of that, they also believe the Holy Ghost to be the God as well.  Yet, they consider themselves monotheists. 

Monotheism simply means that God is One, and only One.  If they believe Jesus to be no more than human, or that the Holy Ghost is no more than God’s Messenger, then there is no issue in the first place.  Likewise, there would not be any issue if they believe the number of God to be more than one.  

Since they believe that God is only one, but yet Jesus Christ and Holy Ghost are also God alongside with the Father, then they are tied with a very complex knot.  For many centuries, there had been raging debates about the nature of their God, especially on the nature of Jesus Christ, for the God in Heaven and the God on earth can hardly be one.  For three centuries, their Church Fathers (leading priests or theologians), could only come up with words.  When one theologian comes up with one word, however, the other theologian would come up with ten opposite words. 

If Jesus is the One God like the Father, is his divinity similar to the Father?  Is he created or uncreated?  Is he equal or subordinated to the Father?  Does his substance different, similar or in fact exactly the same as the Father?  And many more questions of that nature.

In the fourth century AD, the knot that tied the mystery was at last broken.  It was untied not so much because their Church Fathers suddenly found the answer.  It was not merely words that put the matter to rest.  It was with the help of the sword.  In that century, one pagan emperor had decided to convert to this faith.  It was through the power of his sword, and the swords of his successors, that Christianity finally found its true faith. 

The Pagan Emperor who had helped in the cause of finding this true faith was none other than Constantine the Great.  It was to him, perhaps, more than to the Christian theologians, that Christianity owed their orthodox or true faith. 

In the fourth century, or more precisely the year 325 AD, a council was held to resolve the nature of Christ’s Godhood at the city called Nicaea.  It was in that Council that Jesus the Christ was officially proclaimed as God, along with the Father. 

The answer to the mystery is deceptively simple.  God is only one.  The Father and the Son are not two, but one.  They are of the same substance.  They are co-eternal, co-equal, exactly the same.  They are not even of similar nature or substance, because that would make them more than one already.  They are exactly of the same substance, exactly of the same nature.  They are consubstantial, theologically speaking.

The answer would not have been deceptively simple, one may observe, if the pagan emperor who had become a Christian, the Emperor Constantine, did not help with his sword.  His sword had made it acceptable what the theologians could not make with their words.  With the help of the State apparatus, the third element of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost, did not pose much of the problem.  It was resolved in the Council of Constantinople, which took place in 381 AD.

But wouldn’t it easier to just believe that Jesus Christ is only God’s Messenger, instead of making him God as well? 

If you ask that question, then you definitely do not know what Christianity is all about.  One is not a Christian if he does not believe Christ to be a God, or at least Divine.  The whole Christianity tenet rests on that. 

You see, when Adam and Eve ate the Forbidden Fruit, they did not only become naked, as the above quotation suggests.  They had in fact committed a major and unforgivable error, known as the Original Sin.  Since it is the Original Sin, it gets stuck into humanity and becomes hereditary.  There is no way you can get it off, no matter how much you repent.  Although you don’t commit that Original Sin, for it was your first ancestor who did, you are nevertheless going to carry it down until you die.  And your children too will inherit it from you.

But God is Gracious (or perhaps He has regretted the whole thing about the Forbidden Fruit, which has caused the whole mankind to be doomed).  He does not wish for the mankind to be doomed forever.  The problem is, even God cannot erase that Original Sin from humanity, unless of course, God Himself makes a sacrifice.  And not just any sacrifice.  God Himself has to be sacrificed.

But can God sacrifice Himself? 

Well, God is all powerful.  He can do whatever He wants.  It would be funny, however, if God were to take His own life, because the world would be without God, albeit for a while.  Further, if God were to sacrifice Himself, who is going to resurrect Him?  Can the dead God resurrect Himself? 

It was quite a bind, to say the least.  Yet, for the Original Sin to be erased, God MUST sacrifice himself. 

So, how does God get out of this bind?

Well, He took His own Word, His faculty of Speech and planted it into the womb of the Virgin Mary.  Lo and behold, the Word became flesh.  Now that the God had become human, it was easy to get him sacrificed.  So he was sacrificed at the Cross.  Problem solved.

It sounds simple now, but it was not then.  A whole three centuries were required to understand it.  And it is simple only to the believing Christians.  Even to the majority of the Christians, it raises more questions than answers.  For instance, when God took out His Word, or His Speech, does He become mute?  Well, this tenet has got to be believed, not so much understood. 

Even the first proponent of Trinity, whose name was Tertullian, found it perplexing and absurd.  But he has a simple solution.  “I believe in it because it is absurd,” he was quoted as saying. 

St. Augustine, the fifth century Church Doctor (a status higher than Church Father), who was credited to solving the mystery of Trinity, simply said: “Anyone who denies the Trinity is in danger of losing his salvation, and anyone who tries to understand it is in danger of losing his mind.” 

In short, you are damned if you don’t believe in it, and you are damned if you try to understand it.  That is why it is a matter of faith, not a matter of reason.  Since it is easier to believe and be saved than to understand and go crazy, one might as well just believe in it.

Since the whole crux of Christianity Godhood is based on the substance of His nature, it is no wonder, then, that the Christians who came to the Prophet asked him: "O Muhammad, tell us what is your Lord like and of what substance He is made."

To this inquiry, the Prophet recited Surah al Ikhlas.  In one short chapter, he told them that God is Ahad, one and only.  There is no need to make it complicated by saying One for Three and Three for One, as if God is some kind of musketeers, and that one plus one plus one is equal to one.  

He is the Samad.  He is not in need of any absurd theology to solve the dilemma posed by the Original Sin, which does not exist in the first place.  He can just forgive whatever sin there is, Original or Otherwise.  

He does not give birth, nor is He born.  Thus He has no parent, neither does He have a son.  And nothing is equivalent to Him.  There is no such thing as His co-equal, co-eternal, or consubstantial.

To sum up, Surah al Ikhlas, which takes no more than two lines out of 604 pages of 15 lines each, can be used as an answer to just about every question regarding Islamic theology.  No wonder, therefore, that the Prophet says this short Surah is equivalent to a third of the Quran.

1.     Jamaal al-Din Zarabozo, “The Miraculous Quran.”

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Four Quls: The Value of Surah al Ikhlas (2/3)

Muhammad the Prophet was sent to mankind, but since he was a Qurasyhi, it was the Qurasyh whom he first confronted.

The Quraysh are the Ishmaelite Arabs, having descended from Ishmael, the son of Abraham.   Although Ishmael is considered as the Father of Arabs, he himself was not an Arab.  He was half Hebrew half Egyptian, for his father Abraham was a Hebrew, and his mother Hagar was an Egyptian. 

Ishmael was nevertheless considered as the Father of Arabs because he married a Jurhum woman, a pure Arab from the Qahtan stock, and adopted the Arabic tongue.  Qahtan was the ancestor of the pure Arabs.  He was related to Eber, the ancestor of Hebrew.  Both Qahtan and Eber were descended from Sam, the son of Noah, which is why both the Arabs and the Jews are considered as Semitic people.

As the son of Abraham, Ishmael and his descendants were the believers in the One God.  This One God they called Allah.  Their way is called the Hanafiya Way. Over time, however, his descendants introduced other gods along with Allah.  This we have touched briefly in The Story of Four Hunafa, Part 1.

By the time Muhammad the Prophet was born, the Way of Hanafiya, as we have related in the The Story of Four Hunafa, was lost.  Allah was still being worshipped, but along with Him, the Arabs, including the Quraysh, worshipped also other deities.  Inside the Kaabah and its vicinity, there were 360 idols being worshipped, with Hubal as their leading deity.  Kaabah itself, to the Quraysh and the other Arab tribes, remained as Baitillah, the House of Allah.

So entrenched was the belief in associating other gods with Allah among the Arabs that, when Muhammad the Prophet came to purity the belief in Allah, the Qurasyh rejected him.  As other gods tended to be associated with some kind of angels, the saints, etc., these deities therefore had their origin, or their ancestry.

Having lost the notion of the True God, the Quraysh demanded the Prophet to tell them the ancestry of Allah.  They came to him and asked: “O Muhammad, tell us the ancestry of your Lord.”

It was probably to this request that the Surah al Ikhlas was first revealed, as we have noted in Part 1.  Later on, the Bedouin who lived in the desert also asked similar question, and the Prophet responded by reciting this Surah.

In both situations, as we have seen in Part 1, the question was: Tell us the ancestry of your Lord.   But the response given was not just about the ancestry, or the lack of it.  It was to present the nature of Allah in its purest form, in the most precise way, but yet most comprehensive as well. 

No wonder, therefore, that this Surah is called al Ikhlas, the Purity, taken from its theme, as opposed to other surahs, which are mostly derived from particular words in those surahs.  There is not even the word ikhlas in this Surah, as there is the word kafirun in the Surah al Kafirun.

The first verse read: “Say, He is Allah, Ahad (the One and Only).”  The key word here, as many Quranic commentators have observed, is that Allah, the name of Muhammad’s Lord, is Ahad, One and Only, Unique and Absolute. 

Ahad literally means one, but it is not so much about number, for in Arabic, to express one, the word Wahid is usually used.  In many other verses, the word Wahid is used instead of Ahad, when the purpose is to stress that God is only one, not two, three, or many.

Ahad means One and Only, in the sense that it stands by itself, independence of all others, and is not to be compared with anything or anyone, for no comparison can ever be made.  For that reason, it is sometimes translated as Unique instead of One, because unique means there is nothing like it.  But even the word Unique cannot capture the essence of Ahad.

In any case, the Arabs during the Prophet’s time understood it, and understood it well.  To them, if Allah is Wahid instead of Ahad, then there is still the possibility of mixing or associating other gods with Allah.  Since He is Ahad instead of Wahid, they knew that there is no more possibility of having other deities along with Allah. 

It is for this reason that they vehemently opposed the Prophet.  If the Lord of Muhammad is merely Wahid, they would not have much problem with it, for they too believe in Allah.  In fact, the Quraysh and the Arabs regarded Allah as the supreme God, pretty much like the Hindus who regard Brahman as their supreme God, along with other deities.  This is the crux of polytheism.

Polytheism in the case of the Arabs was not the rejection of Allah, but of associating other deities to Allah, making them Allah’s partners.  This is the corrupt belief that the Prophet came to purify, and it is through this Surah that the true nature of Absolute Monotheism of Allah is being presented in a simple and pure form.  

The case of the torture underwent by Bilal ibn Rabah, one of the leading companions, illustrates this point clearly.  Throughout the episode, the only word Bilal uttered was “Ahad, Ahad.”  His master who carried out the torture, Umayyah bin Khalaf, understood its meaning very well, which made him angrier.  He understood that Bilal refused to recognize any other gods alongside Allah.  As for Umayyah, he too recognized Allah as the supreme God, but he believed other deities have some share in the Godhood. 

Umayyah did not ask Bilal to renounce Allah.  All he wanted was for his slave to recognize also other deities being worshipped by his people.  But Bilal was adamant.  Whatever Umayyah and his henchmen did to him—and the only thing they did not do to him was to kill him outright—Bilal only uttered the word that made his torturers growing more exasperated.

Since the word is so precise, yet so comprehensive in its meaning, one may be excused into thinking that this word alone would be sufficient to answer the question regarding Allah’s ancestry.  Since Allah is Ahad, one and only, unique, absolutely alone without any partner whatsoever, the question about His ancestry, therefore, does not arise.

But Allah does not want to leave any room for doubt, thus the second verse follows: “He is the Samad.”   

While the word Ahad is noted for its precision, the word Samad is noted for its encompassing broadness in meaning.  The basic idea, however, conveys absolute self sufficiency, one who has absolutely everything, is in need of absolutely nothing, but everything is absolutely in need of him.

This is the idea that Allah describes Himself, when question about Him was asked.  That He creates everything, owns everything, in need of nothing, a focal point for everything.  This is the only place in the Quran, according to Muhammad Assad, where the word Samad is used.  

Looking through its meanings that run close to a hundred or so, as the contemporary and classical scholars describe it, I am inclined to think that, almost, if not all, of Allah’s other attributes such as Almighty, Omniscience, All Hearing, All Powerful, etc., are encompassed in this one word.  It is the summary of what He is all about.

The Arabs during the Prophet’s time understood it.  This God, the One and Only God, the Lord of Muhammad and his followers, requires nothing and no help whatsoever, and that He alone is the source for everything.  He does not need to be dusted, repaired, painted, carved, or remade, as the idols of the Quraysh and the Arabs do.

And because He is absolutely One, in need of nothing, not even the notion of “need” itself, the next verse in Surah al Ikhlas simply says: “He does not beget, neither is He begotten.”  Differently put, there is no such thing as ancestry when comes to Allah.

The word used in the Quran to negate either giving birth or born, is lam, instead of la.  In Arabic, the former connotes strongest negation, meaning “never,” while the latter simply denotes “no.”  This word lam instead of la is to further strengthen the assertion that it is not merely the case whereby He does not give birth to anyone or anyone giving birth to Him, but to stress that such is NEVER the case. 

This third verse further underscores the fact that He is Ahad and that He is Samad, and therefore the notion that He needs someone else to be His parent, or another to be His child, would be contradicting His real nature.

And the Surah ends with the verse: “Nor is there to Him any equivalent.”  Nothing resembles Him, none is equal to Him.  Even our imagination cannot fathom His likeness, for everything that we imagine is simply not Him.   This verse concludes His nature of being One and Only, of Him being the Samad, of the need, or the lack thereof, for Him to be born, or giving birth.

These four short verses, therefore, provided a concise but comprehensive response to the questions put by the polytheist Quraysh and their Arab neighbours, including the Bedouin.  Allah Himself has chosen the answer by revealing this Surah, and instructed the Prophet to merely recite it to the questioners. 

One would also note that this Surah opens with the word Qul, meaning “say,” or “proclaim.”  Very few indeed Quranic verses or surahs begin with Qul.  When it does, it suggests that the message about to be delivered is of paramount importance, as many commentators put it.

To conclude this part, the Quraysh or other polytheist Arabs had gotten more than what they asked for, irrespective whether their question on the ancestry of the Lord of Muhammad was for genuine reason, or merely for mockery.  This Surah, which purifies the Godhood of Allah, whom they also worshipped, delivers unequivocal statement to the utter falsehood of their way. 

It is the perfect answer to the polytheists in Makkah, as it is also a perfect answer to the Jews in Madinah, as well as the Christians who came to Madinah, enquiring about the Lord of Muhammad.

We shall talk about that in our concluding instalment, insyaAllah.

Stay tuned.

End of Part 2.