Judge ye the tree by its fruit

Posted on June 19, 2008


Comments from Abdul Rahman Talib ( aka Rahman Celcom ) to my ‘What next? Outlaw Hadharites? Rehab centres, perhaps?’ post, from his 5th comment ( 14th June at 4.56pm ) on turned almost entirely on the issue of dealing with the apostates, although my post had nothing to do with this thorny issue.

In pressing home his point that apostates are to be put to death, Rahman backed his contention on just one verse from the Holy Qur’an : Surah 2 verse 54.

Many of you may not be aware, but both Rahman and I have had exchanges on this issue through letters to Malaysiakini in 2005.

For those of you who may be inclined to view those exchanges, I link below the series of letters in that exchange sequentially below.

1. My letter dated 9/9/2005

2. Rahman’s letter dated 15/9/2005

3. My letter dated 20/9/2005

4. Rahman’s letter dated 26/9/2005

Surah 2 verse 54 : ‘ And when Moses said unto his people: O my people! Ye have wronged yourselves by your choosing of the calf (for worship) so turn in penitence to your Creator, and kill yourselves. That will be best for you with your Creator and He will relent toward you. Lo! He is the Relenting, the Merciful’.

Rahman’s foundation for the death penalty for apostates is ‘kill yourselves’ in this verse.

Let me reproduce here his rationale as expounded in his last letter above, which is similar to the stance he has adopted in his several comments.

‘In verse 02:54, Moses passed a sentence of death upon an entire tribe of Israelites for committing idolatry. The sentence is ordained by God. That particular order remains until today since there are no other verses in the Quran abrogating it.

The order for the Israelites to take their own lives in 02:54 – their punishment for committing apostasy – is an irrefutable fact. It destroys all those who claim that the Quran contains no verse that points to punishment for apostasy.

Also, since the Israelites number is large, it is more practical for the tribe to take their own lives rather than be executed. It is still a death penalty nonetheless. The only difference is that in our time, apostates are executed while in Moses time, they were to kill themselves.

What remains, from the time of Moses until today, is the fact that apostates must be punished by death. This fact hasn’t changed no matter how many try to deny it.’

In a comment on 15/6/2008 at 12.18pm to the same post, Walski69 responded to Rahman. I excerpt below the relevant part.

‘…taking 2:54 – 2:57 in toto, what is being conveyed here is the concept of repentence and elimination of one’s ego, and that idol worship harms not God, but the souls of the idol worshippers themselves. It does NOT promote the killing of apostates, as you have suggested’

Walski69 is not alone with this viewpoint.

Muhammad Assad, in his translation, translates fa-qtulu anfusa-kum to read ‘mortify yourselves’ rather than kill yourselves. in his commentary to Surah 2 verse 54 he offers the following :

‘Lit ., “kill yourselves “ or , according to some commentator, “kill one another” . This literal interpretation (probably based on the Biblical account in Exodus xxxii,26-28 ) is not, however, convincing in view of the immediately preceding call to repentance and the subsequent statement that this repentance was accepted by God. I incline, therefore, to the interpretation given by “Abd al-Jabbar (quoted by Razi in his commentary on this verse) to the effect that the expression “kill yourselves “is used here in a metaphorical sense (majazan), i.e., “mortify yourselves”.’

Maulana Muhammad Ali, in his translation, renders fa-qtulu anfusa-kum to read as ‘kill your passions’.

His commentary on this verse :

According to the bible, the children of Levi were commanded to slay the others, and three thousand men were killed on that day. On the basis of this bible story, the words fa-qtulu anfusa-kum occurring here have been translated as meaning kill your people. The context does not allow this interpretation. In the first place, the words are preceded by an order or to repent and it could not be followed by an order to kill. Secondly, the words that follow are, so he turned to you mercifully, and an order to kill three thousand people could not be called a merciful dealing. Thirdly, it has already been made clear in v. 52 that God pardoned them for the offence of taking the calf for a god: then he pardoned you after that so that you might give thanks. They could not be asked to give thanks for being killed. The order to kill is inconsistent with the statement that they were pardoned. Fourthly, when the same incident is narrated elsewhere, there is a clear statement that they were granted a pardon and there is no mention of killing: “then they took the calf for a god, after clear the signs had come to them, but we pardoned this “(4:153). Fifthly, according to the Qur’an even samiri, the leader of calf-worship, was not killed and was dismissed simply with the order: “Begone! Surely for thee in this life it would be to say, touch me not” (20:97). Hence the holy Qur’an rejects the bible story of the Israelites being killed as a punishment for calf-worship. They were pardoned and were told simply to repent, and God accepted their repentance as clearly stated here. Therefore anfusa-kum does not mean here your people, but your desires or your passions, for the words nafs, of which anfus is the plural, means not only self or soul but also intention, desire or passion. In fact, it was an order not to kill but to mortify, and this is the only interpretation which can be given to these words consistent with the clear mention of God’s pardoning them and turning to them mercifully. I may add that no prophet or religion has ever thought that a man can be killed for the worship of an object other than God’

Interestingly, in his comments, Rahman had reproduced the translation of Surah 2 verse 54 by Abdullah Yusof Ali, which does translate fa-qtulu anfusa-kum as ‘slay yourselves’.

However, it is unfortunate that Rahman did not think it necessary to share with us Yusof Ali’s commentary on this verse. I reproduce this below

‘Moses’s speech may be construed literally. as translated, in which case it reproduces Exod. xxxii 27-28 but in a much softened form, Old Testament says : “God in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay ever man his brother. And every man his companion, and every neighbour… and there fell of the people that day 3,000 men.” A more spiritualized version would be that the order for slaying was given by way of trial, but was withdrawn, for God turned to them in forgiveness. A still more spiritualized way of construing it would be to take “anfusakum “ as meaning “soul” not “selves” Then the sense of Moses’s speech ( abbreviated ) would be : “By the worship of calf you have wronged your own souls ; repent : mortify (=slay) your souls now : it will be better in the sight of God.”

I can almost hear Rahman screaming that we must give effect to a literal reading of Surah 2 verse 54.

Well, would Rahman also then give effect to a literal reading of the following, please?

‘Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.’ – Surah 2 verse 256

‘If it had been thy Lord’s will, they would all have believed,- all who are on earth! wilt thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe?’ – Surah 10 verse 99

‘Do not make excuses; you have denied indeed after you had believed; if We pardon a party of you, We will chastise (another) party because they are guilty. The hypocritical men and the hypocritical women are all alike; they enjoin evil and forbid good and withhold their hands; they have forsaken Allah, so He has forsaken them; surely the hypocrites are the transgressors. Allah has promised the hypocritical men and the hypocritical women and the unbelievers the fire of hell to abide therein; it is enough for them; and Allah has cursed them and they shall have lasting punishment.’ -Surah 9 verses 66-68.

Also, could Rahman reconcile his obsession with killing the apostates against the following command of God?

‘Tell those who believe to forgive those who hope not for the days of Allah; in order that He may requite folk what they used to earn.’ – Surah 45 verse 14

Finally, perhaps Rahman would care to share with us why, when so many verses heavily point to God dealing with apostates to the exclusion of all others, he would choose to read one verse as an imperative to kill?

Do you not find comfort in the verses that I now refer to?

Posted in: Digressions