Responses to my ‘offshoot’ & Helen’s ‘Islamophobes’ post

Posted on June 3, 2008

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Mat Rempit responded to the ‘offshoot’ post . Revert to the ‘Islamophobes’.

Both are quite long (MR’s is in fact longer than the post under response) and I don’t know if I will be able to respond to all points raised here.

Nevertheless, I want to thank both for exemplifying the art of courteous disagreement.

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From Mat Rempit :

Title: SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN WE GO ON A QURANIC QUOTING EXERCISE/RAMPAGE

Disclaimer: Since this post makes some reference to your previous post ‘ A Reply to Mahaguru58’, my comment will start by referring to some of the Quranic statements on Christians that you cite, namely (2: 62) and (5:82-85 ). But since this comment of mine is not limited to the issues raised in that posting, and since to my mind, it also has some relevance to the issues raised in this post, I have decided to post my two cents here.

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Haris!

Though I am of the opinion that the issue of whether a Christian is a kafir or otherwise is not simple as Mahaguru58 has presented, when quoting from the Quran about Christians, can you please try to be fair not only to Christians but also to the Quran itself?

Instead of limiting your choice of Quranic statements to those that can question Mahaguru’s simplistic assertion, can you give a fuller account on the subject matter as expressed by the Quran itself?

After all,even if we cannot discern with finality what is the Quranic position on Christians (ie, be they infidels or believers) at least we can convey an impression on the subtleties and complexities of the Quran, both in general and also in relation to Christians.

For instance, by citing the Quranic statement that you quote and not much else [ie,(2:62) and (5:82-85)] it would seem to indicate that the Quranic position on Christians is straightforward. But it is not so cut and dried.

After all, apart from the lines you quote, with regards to Christians, the Quran also contains the following statements which ON THE SURFACE are not so positive:

1) “They say,No one shall enter paradise except those who are Jews or Christians—-these are their wishful thoughts” (2:111)

2) “ The Jew’s say, the Christians have nothing to stand on, and the Christians say , the Jews have nothing to stand on, while both read the book” (2:113)

3) “Jews and Christians will never be please with you (O Muhamad) unless you follow their religion (s); say (to them): The guidance of God (not of Jews or Christians) is the guidance”(2:120)

4) And they say, “Be Jews” or “Christians” and you shall be o the right path”. Say: “Nay, but [ours is] the creed of Abraham, who turned away from all that is false and was not of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God.” (2: 135)

In fact, statement no 3 above, (2:120), if read in isolation, gives the impression that the guidance of God and the guidance that is provided by the religion of the Christians are two different things. Now, if read with (5:44) especially its last line, can we conclude that Christians are kafir’s ? “……And whosoever does not judge by what Allâh has revealed, such are the Kâfirûn ” (5:44) or in Arabic , …Man lam yahkum bi maa anzala Allah fa-ulaa’ika hum al- kafirun.

Yet,in my view, before we simplistically conclude that the Quran has a negative opinion about Christians, or their message incongruous to the Quran’s, we must also be aware that the Quran states the following:

1) “And We will make him (the baby to be born of Virgin Mary) a sign to mankind, and a mercy from Us” (19:21)

2) “And We gave him (Christ) the Evangel, and We put into the hearts those who followed him, kindness and compassion” (57:27)

3) “And We gave him the Evangel with its guidance and light, confirmatory of the preceding law (Torah); a guidance and a warning to those who fear God” (5:50)

Now, the three statements above about Christ and his followers seem exceptionally positive.In fact, according to Fazlur Rahman, such a positive appraisal by the Quran towards Christians, has almost no other parallel among the communities mentioned in the Quran. But just as we should be careful not to reach simple conclusions that the Quran has a negative outlook on Christians, the same nuanced considerations should be applied when reading the 3 statements above. After all, should the three statements be understood in isolation or only within the context that God’s guidance is universal and not limited to any nations and people?

As it were, neither Muhamad nor the Quran ever claim to be introducing something novel and thus, previous revelation must be respected:

1)“And there is no nation wherein a warner has not come”(35:24)

2)“ For every people a guide has been provided”(13:7)

3) “Do not argue with the followers of earlier revelation otherwise than in the most kindly manner—unless it be such of them as are set on evil doing—and say: “We believe in that which has been bestowed upon us, as well as that has been bestowed upon you: for our God and your God is one and the same, and it is unto Him that we all surrender ourselves”(29:46)

4) ‘And to Allâh belong the east and the west, so wherever you turn yourselves or your faces there is the Face of Allâh (and He is High above, over His Throne). Surely! Allâh is All-Sufficient for His creatures’ needs, All-Knowing” (2:115)

In fact, the great mystic Muhyiddin ibn Arabi (1165-1240) was probably extrapolating the meaning of (2:115)above, when he wrote the following advice:

“Do not attach yourself to any particular creed exclusively, so that you may disbelieve all the rest; otherwise you may lose much good, nay, you will fail to recognize the truth of the matter. God, the omnipresent and omnipotent, is not limited to any creed, for he says, “Where so ever ye turn, there is the face of Allah”

Reading Ibn Arabi’s passage above, one would get the impression that not only a Christian NOT a kafir, but so would be many others who fall under different religious denominations. But should Ibn Arabi’s writings be understood literally or figuratively?If one has a background idea on the writings of Ibn Arabi and its significance, one would know that this is not an empty question.

So to go back to what the Quran has to say about Christians. In other words, what is the Quranic position on Christians?

Well, at a cursory glance, it would seem that the Quranic treatment on Christians would depend on the types of Christians being addressed.

According to Professor Fazlur Rahman (1919-8 8) from the University Of Chicago, during Muhammad’s time, there were two strands of Christians, one that is praised by the Quran while the other is spoken in less flattering terms, which is clear from the following ayat:

‘From among them (ie, the People of the Book), there is an upright group, but most of them perpetrates misdeeds’(5:66).

And the statement above would appear fairly innocuous when compared with the Quaranic statements regarding the doctrine of Trinity. In fact, the Quranic repudiation on the doctrine of Trinity is quite severe and reminiscent of its statements against idolaters:

1)“Those are infidels who say: God is the Messiah, son of Mary. Say: Who will be of any help against God, if He should want to destroy the Messiah, son of Mary, his mother and all those who live on earth? To God belongs the Kingdom of heaven and earth and whatever is between them; He creates whatever He wills, and God is powerful over everything.’(5:17)

2) ‘Committed to infidelity are those who say: God is the same as the Messiah, son of Mary;….committed to infidelity are those who say: God is one among three—while there is no God but the unique one; if they do not desist in what they say, a painful punishment will touch those of them as commit infidelity. Why do they not repent to God and seek His pardon, for God is forgiving and merciful? The Messiah son of Mary was but a Messenger—before him had gone many other Messengers; his mother was the truthful one; they both used to eat food [like other men]. Just see how We make the signs clear to them and also see how they are being deceived!’ (5:72-75)

3) And the Jews say: ‘Uzair (Ezra) is the son of Allâh, and the Christians say: Messiah is the son of Allâh. That is a saying from their mouths. They imitate the saying of the disbelievers of old. Allâh’s Curse be on them, how they are deluded away from the truth! (9:30)

But are such statements reflective of how the Quran views Christianity as a whole? Or by citing what happened in Christianity, is it more reflective of its unequivocal rejection of polytheism? After all, the possibility for the deification of Muhammad is also treated in the same vein:

1) “Muhammad is but a Messenger—before him have gone many other Messengers. Should he then die or be slain [in battle] will you turn your back upon your heels [O Muslims]?” (3:144)

2) “Say [to the pagan Arabs],Tell me, if God were to destroy me and all those who are with me, or should have mercy on us, who will provide refuge..?” (67:2 8)

NOW, DO I, Mat Rempit, AGREE WITH PROF FAZLUR RAHMAN’s interpretation of the Quranic position on Christians? Or Mahaguru’s much simpler explanation?

My answer is very frank: I don’t know.

And fortunately for me, whether Fazlur Rahman was right or wrong doesn’t matter. And the same applies to Mahaguru 58 and Haris—to me it doesn’t matter be they right or wrong.

At least not to the point that I’m trying to make.

Which begs the question: what’s my point?

Simple…. That the more than dozen statements that I cited above just serves to highlight how easy it is for the Quran to be misrepresented one way or another. Even on an issue as seemingly straightforward as what the Quran says about Christian’s, the Quran is still susceptible to being quoted out of context. And the Quranic statements that I cite are far from exhaustive.

If I wanted to cite Quranic statements that gives the impression that the Quran looks at Christians with complete disdain, I can. Easily.

Conversely, it is just as easy to cite Quranic statements that gives the impression that the Quran holds Christians in the highest regard.

And this vulnerability of the Quran to being quoted out of context is not limited to just the issues of Christians. On the issue of Kafirs, the early theological controversy caused by the Khawarij serves as a concrete flesh and blood reminder.

Thus, because of all this and more, I am of the opinion that one has to be very careful when quoting the Quran to drive home an argument. If we are not careful and inadvertently quote out of context, there is a high chance that we will pervert its meaning and reach conclusions that doesn’t reflect what the Quran intended. (In fact, there also exits the possibility that we are unconsciously turning the Quran into an idol carved out of our own image, a projection of our needs, fears, desires and prejudices. If this happens, though it is often mentioned that we are created in the image of God, we may in our haste, turn God or His speech, into an image of us. Kita telah memanusiakan Tuhan and in a sense become idol worshipers)

Additionally the same risk is at play for those who are selective in the ayat’s that they choose to quote. In fact we can be selective not only the ayat’s we choose to cite, but also in the way we interpret them.

Of course, some may say that I am overly complicating the Quran. After all does not the Koran say that it is simple to understand? Yes, but it also says that there are clear and allegorical meanings. As such, even this statement that the Koran is easy to understand must be understood in the context of other statements.In other words it is not so straightforward.

And this vexation has not even taken into account of the problems of translating Arabic into English, which a whole different kettle of fish altogether.

Thus, try to avoid quoting the Quran willy-nilly.

But if one must quote, than please do so in the spirit of the Quran rather than with the primary objective of winning an argument. As the quran itself directed “Explain the Quran in the manner of the Quran”(50:45). Thus, to minimize the possibility of misrepresentation, when quoting the Quran one should also aware of or try to include among others:

1)‘occasions of revelations’,
2)whether such statements were Mecan or Madinan,
3)whether such statements fall under the catogary of Mukhamat or muntashabihat
4)Cite a more comprehensive list of statement that touch on the subject matter and if possible the various standard authorized interpretations of such statements by recognize authorities.

Of course, after doing all this, does it guarantee that we would NOT misrepresent the Quran?Of course lah, no. But if we don’t, it will almost guarantee that we will be misrepresenting the Quran.

Additionally, if we cant get a simple conclusion on the subject that we want( for example, the status of Christians in the Quran) at least we have conveyed to our readers more about the nuances and complexities of the Quran than we would have done with a simple quote. ( after all, misrepresenting God’s words is at least as bad as misrepresenting Christians, no?)

But, if one is not willing to do all this, than it is safer to not quote at all.

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From Revert :

Salam,

So the blog has been “taken Over” by Helen. Never mind, this is for Haris to contemplate as he invited me to review Surah 39 Verse 18 in another post. Well, i have again looked up the “truncated” verse you quoted in isolation to prove a point on. This is akin to the same modus operandi used by “intellectuals” and “rationalists” (if you get my drift) of Ad-Deen i.e., Islam. i am not into polemics for i have made it clear that there is no interpretation of the Quran beyond the Holy Propohet (PBUH & HF)- the verse i quote is Surah 3 verse 7(just to stress the point and no more for i believe in the totality of the Quran as it is and independent of any interpretation be they from Tabari, Zamnaskhari, Fakhruddin Al- Razi etcetera)

2. FYI, if you are insistent on your line of argument, i will give a few things to ponder about but i will play it at your game only for this occasion, if need be. Since you quoted S39 V18 why not figure out verse 3 S39.Also verse 4 S39 which is hinting at those who imply Allah “fathered” an offspring.

3.Figure out what is ordained in verse 19 (Surah 3) which makes it patently clear and for good measure ruminate the verses that follow in the same surah regarding the birth of Isa (Alahis Salam)and his mission (verse 42-63. As for Ibrahim (Alahis Salam), rightly he was a Muslim and so was Adam (Alahis Salam), Musa(Alahis Salam), Daud(Alahis Salam), Isa(Alahis Salam) and all the great prophets(Alahis Salam) mentioned in The Quran, for they all worshipped only Allah SWT and did not ascribe partners to him nor “intermediaries” to reach Him. All other scriptures apart from the Quran contains this essential truth of Monotheism but as i implied in my previous post, they (these scriptures) have been altered whether overtly or covertly by their followers hence you have the different beliefs prevalent today ( I would rather define them as supersitions born out of the melding of folk religion and authentic or what i define as Classical Religion). I aver that they ( these beliefs and the scriptures(note the uncapitalised “s” ;) were borne out of ignorance, ego, recalcitrance or the self-serving orientations of their respective clergy who sold the original scriptures handed through the prophets at a pittance for worldly gain. (Refer again to the story of the Heifer and the Jews in Surah Al-Baqarah

3. Following from No 2: why isn’t it logical to deduce that Man started off with one religion, Islam which were then subverted to the different forms we see today.Prophets Musa(Alahis Salam)and Isa(Alahis Salam) themselves, have, on numerous occasions, observed that their mission was merely to resurrect/restore the Faith of Ibrahim(Alahis Salam), Ishak(Alahis Salam) and Ismail(Alahis Salam) both in the Quran and their respective scriptures (the Torah and the Bible).Similarly, the essence of monotheism is also evident in Hinduism and to a lesser extent in Buddhism and Jainism etcetra. As such, you can draw your own conclusions vis-a-vis where do the adherents of such beliefs/superstitions now stand in relation to Islam for that is the ONLY Deen as patently and unequivocally highlighted in verse 19 Surah 3.Why there was no mention about this verse in the arguments thus far by you or the other parties concerned is beyond me and is indeed perplexing.

4. i wish to reiterate that personally, i humbly do not condone nor subscribe to the notion that verses or extracts from the Holy Quran can be used to further one’s argument be it by you or anyone else for that matter. It violates the sanctity of the Holy Quran and implies that the holy scripture can be ‘mutiliated’ to further an agenda whatever that may be. For me, it should be read in totality and the mysteries within (where existent) should best be left to Allah SWT to “elucidate”(for want of a better word)as the verse 7 of Surah 3 clearly implies. For in the final analysis, who are we as falliable and “finite” individuals to unravel the Mysteries and Grandeur of the Infalliable and the Infinite?

Posted in: Digressions