Islam places great emphasis on learning and personal development.
Muslims should always seek to learn and develop themselves, these were key qualities that made our forbears great scholars, scientists and philosophers, leaders in every field of human endeavour.
When we again give learning, scientific and technological development central stage, we will be leaders once more.
By Sheikh Daoud Rosser-Owen
The famous Tudor dramaturge, Christopher Marlowe, wrote circa 1592 to the Prologue of his play The Jew of Malta, “I count religion but a childish toy, And hold there is no sin but ignorance”.
While I don’t agree with him about religion, nor the solitariness of the sin, I certainly hold with him that ignorance is sinful. I don’t mean ‘ignorance’ as in simply not knowing something. I mean ‘ignorance’ as refusing to find out. Indeed, in these days of the easy accessibility of information through the Internet and widespread literacy, I would consider such ‘ignorance’ not merely to be a sin, but worse – a willful and inexcusable self-indulgence. And, as it affects Islam and Muslims in the British Isles and even elsewhere in that putative entity ‘The West’, outrageous and with the wrong people positively dangerous. It should be needless to say that this works both ways.
At the moment it is quite common, even fashionable, among many to denigrate and anathematise the Shari’ah, used as a shorthand for Islamic Law or more accurately as one for the degenerate legal systems applied in certain Muslim countries – which is not at all the same thing.
There is also the understandable reaction to a more immediate problem of the ignorant demands from certain Muslims of Britain, and their umbrella organisations, for the application in the UK of some concept that they describe as “Shari’ah” or “Islamic Law”, but which is actually little better than an Islamic label stuck crudely over some imported cultural or customary code that in all too many dimensions touches Islam itself only notionally.
It is sadly true that there is some justification for these responses.
However reacting from ignorance is not helpful. Yet what else can people do when they are let down by those whose professional duty it used to be (according to the Great John Delane, sometime Editor of The Times, in his famous editorial “The Earl of Derby remarked…” of Friday, 6 February, 1852) “to educate and inform” but who nowadays seem to take it as being to promote ignorance and dissention? Few people are orientalists, and the generations who were born, grew up and served in the Empire have largely passed out of public life.
The aim of this essay is an attempt to fill in the gap abandoned by journalism. It is largely adapted from my monograph (as yet unpublished because not quite complete) on Tory Fundamentalism and Muslim Ideas of State, and it has been revised in the light of two Reports recently released on Islamophobia: that by Spinwatch, “The Cold War on British Muslims” (available to read at http://www.scribd.com/doc/61402174/The-Cold-War-on-British-Muslims and as a PDF at http://www.spinwatch.org/images/The_Cold_War on_British_Muslims_July_2011.pdf) and that by the Center for American Progress, “Fear, Inc. The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America” (available to read and to download as a PDF at http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/08/islamophobia.html).
It is possible that I actually was the first to coin the word “Islamophobia” in an Editorial I wrote in Q-News International in early 1995 – I had formed the word as a derivative from, and allusion to, “homophobia” – which was picked up by the Runnymede Trust’s Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, set up in 1996, in its first Report “Islamophobia: a challenge for us all”, published in 1997. On reflection, seeing how things have developed more towards outright hatred of Islam and Muslims rather than an irrational fear, it would have been more appropriate for me to have called it “Islamomisia”. I had toyed with the idea, and dismissed it as being too academically obscure for a newspaper editorial.
About two years ago, in I think 2008, there was published in one of the UK’s daily broadsheets the results of a survey among Muslims, largely in the Midlands and north-east of England, asking whether they wanted Shari’ah in the UK. Many answered ‘yes’, but the questions remain what did the respondents understand by the request, did they think that there was a realistic possibility of it actually happening, or were they reacting to some massive hypothetical “If”?
Much has been made of the apparent results of this poll. So, following from this, what does the word Shari’ah mean for the average UK Muslim – or the proverbial ‘Muslim on the Clapham omnibus’ – and the average UK non-Muslim? And what does this actually mean for them at the operative level of daily life?
There used not to be an educated person unfamiliar with that verse from Jeremiah (6:16), “interrogate de semitis antiquis quae sit via bona et ambulate in ea” (ask after the old paths where is the good way and walk in it). This “good way” (via bona) is the well-trodden path of the prophets and patriarchs, and is the Way of Truth that all these have called people to follow.
The Muslims do not see their Way as being different from this but as a continuation of this well-trodden path, though all communities at various places, times, and circumstances have needed specific guidance for their conditions. As stated in the Quran “for every one of you We have ordained a Code and a Good Way” (li kulli ja’alna minkum shir’atan wa minhaja)(Q5:48). This via bona is none other than the Shari’ah – a ‘well-trodden path to that watering hole’ (which is what the word actually means) of laws and conduct derived from what has been sent down from the Almighty from which the Mosaic Law of the Torah, much of the Canon Law of the Christians, and the corpus of Islamic Law drink deep. To Muslims, each of these Abrahamic Faiths (as the late Professor Isma’il al-Faruqi, al shahid, termed them) has its own Shari’ah: its own track (semita) on the Way (via) of Truth.
30 August 2010
It is always a shock when you regard something as self-evident and then come across someone who believes the opposite. It forces you to analyse your belief — you can no longer take the mathematician’s refuge of saying “it’s obvious!”
Five years ago, I drafted the membership leaflet for the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester. The content is repeated on the Forum’s website in the section “Why this Forum was created”, and amongst other things it states: “Islam and Judaism are closer to each other than any other two religions.” Accordingly, when I had lunch a couple of years ago with a senior Anglican cleric, I was astonished to find that he regarded Christianity and Judaism as very close while both being quite far away from Islam.
How the three faiths see each other
Before trying to measure their relative closeness, it is worth stepping back to summarise how the three religions see each other.
(a) What their holy books say
Here chronology dictates everything.
Written first, Judaism’s holy book (my copy is “The Holy Scriptures according to the Masoretic text” from the Jewish Publications Society of America) says nothing of either Christianity or Islam.
In this context, it is not necessary to consider Christian and Muslim views that Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them and upon all the other prophets mentioned in this article) respectively are both prefigured in the Jewish Holy Scriptures. What matters in this context is how the Jewish Holy Scriptures are understood by Jews.
All of the first Christians were Jews, and the Christian Bible contains the entire text of the Jewish Holy Scriptures albeit resequenced. Conversely, the Christian Bible says nothing about Islam.
To condense an immensely complex issue into one sentence, the Christian Bible regards the Old Covenant made between God and the Hebrews at Mount Sinai as being superseded by the New Covenant mediated through Jesus.
Now the main point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent that the Lord, and not any mortal, has set up. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer.
Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They offer worship in a sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one; for Moses, when he was about to erect the tent, was warned, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”
But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one.
God finds fault with them when he says: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant, and so I had no concern for them, says the Lord. This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach one another or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
In speaking of “a new covenant,” he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.(Hebrews 8, New Revised Standard Version)
The last in the sequence to be revealed, the Quran acknowledges the existence of both the Jewish and the Christian Scriptures. The Quran recognises that non-Muslims can achieve salvation.
VERILY, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians – all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds – shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve. (Quran 2.62.)
This and all other Quran quotations in this piece are from “The Message of the Quran” translated by Muhammad Asad.
The Quran states that the previous Scriptures have been tampered with, but without giving details of where they are now incorrect and where the text we have is still correct.
AND, INDEED, God accepted a [similar] solemn pledge from the children of Israel when We caused twelve of their leaders to be sent [to Canaan as spies]. And God said: “Behold, I shall be with you! If you are constant in prayer, and spend in charity, and believe in My apostles and aid them, and offer up unto God a goodly loan, I will surely efface your bad deeds and bring you into gardens through which running waters flow. But he from among you who, after this, denies the truth, will indeed have strayed from the right path!”
Then, for having broken their solemn pledge, We rejected them and caused their hearts to harden – [so that now] they distort the meaning of the [revealed] words, taking them out of their context; and they have forgotten much of what they had been told to bear in mind; and from all but a few of them thou wilt always experience treachery. But pardon them, and forbear: verily, God loves the doers of good.
And [likewise,] from those who say, “Behold, we are Christians.” We have accepted a solemn pledge: and they, too, have forgotten much of what they had been told to bear in mind – wherefore We have given rise among them to enmity and hatred, [to last] until Resurrection Day: and in time God will cause them to understand what they have contrived. O followers of the Bible! Now there has come unto you Our Apostle, to make clear unto you much of what you have been concealing [from yourselves] of the Bible, and to pardon much. Now there has come unto you from God a light, and a clear divine writ, through which God shows unto all that seek His goodly acceptance the paths leading to salvation and, by His grace, brings them out of the depths of darkness into the light and guides them onto a straight way. (Quran 5.12 – 5.16)
The Quran is also very critical of Trinitarianism.
Indeed, the truth deny they who say, “Behold, God is the Christ, son of Mary” – seeing that the Christ [himself] said, “O children of Israel! Worship God [alone], who is my Sustainer as well as your Sustainer.” Behold, whoever ascribes divinity to any being beside God, unto him will God deny paradise, and his goal shall be the fire: and such evildoers will have none to succour them!
Indeed, the truth deny they who say, “Behold, God is the third of a trinity” – seeing that there is no deity whatever save the One God. And unless they desist from this their assertion, grievous suffering is bound to befall such of them as are bent on denying the truth. Will they not, then, turn towards God in repentance, and ask His forgiveness? For God is much forgiving, a dispenser of grace.
The Christ, son of Mary, was but an apostle: all [other] apostles had passed away before him; and his mother was one who never deviated from the truth; and they both ate food [like other mortals]. Behold how clear We make these messages unto them: and then behold how perverted are their minds! Say: “Would you worship, beside God, aught that has no power either to harm or to benefit you – when God alone is all-hearing, all-knowing?”
Say: “O followers of the Gospel! Do not overstep the bounds [of truth] in your religious beliefs; and do not follow the errant views of people who have gone astray aforetime, and have led many [others] astray, and are still straying from the right path.” (Quran 5.72 – 5.77)
By Paul Salahuddin Armstrong
Hadith, narrations of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, can be useful supplementary material, which in some circumstances can help to clarify certain matters. However, a few things should be born in mind when referencing hadiths:
1). The only sacred scripture of Islam is the Holy Qur’an, all other texts including hadith are of a supplementary nature. Hadiths are not part of the sacred scripture of Islam, even though they do make reference to the purported words and deeds of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.
2). Hadiths vary in their degree of reliability, some hadith are most likely authentic, as they’re based on multiple narrations from individuals regarded as honest and trustworthy members of the community, renowned for their accurate memories; nevertheless, many hadith are no where near as reliable and some are fraudulent. The great imams of hadith themselves, threw out most of the narrations submitted to them for collation. This fact in itself indicates that fraudulent hadiths were something very common during the period in which the famous hadith collections were compiled. If this were not so, would these noble people have felt such a need to sort the wheat from the chaff, and to edit together the books which they did? Even the hadith which they did preserve have been categorised from authentic (sahih) to weak (daif). All this should make us question just how reliable these books are, and not to place too great an emphasis upon them; especially not to the extent that we end up placing more emphasis on hadith than upon the Divine revelation of Almighty God – the message of the Holy Qur’an.
3). Unlike the timeless wisdom of the Holy Qur’an, hadith are a product of their times. Through making reference to the day to day incidents during the life of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, and his noble companions, they do give us tremendous incites into the lives and culture of the Prophet and his companions. However, this is precisely the very same reason why they are encoded in time and place. In order for us to be able to extrapolate meaningful wisdom and practical guidance in completely different cultural contexts, we need to understand such things as the culture of that time, what the Prophet, peace be upon him, was striving to achieve through his words i.e. his intentions, and through understanding these points, what we are meant to take from these hadiths in present day contexts and what was simply meant for the particular situations which Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was addressing at that time.
Many times I’ve witnessed hadith being referenced without any effort being made to take these points into consideration. Yet, without taking these into consideration, we will undoubtedly take the Prophet’s noble words completely out of context and perhaps even do the very opposite to that which he would have advised, were he with us today helping us work through how we should address the various challenges we face in contemporary circumstances.
How should we address the difficulties, morally, spiritually and physically, faced by the brave souls working to contain the nuclear disaster at Fukushima? How do we approach the dilemmas faced by leaders who inherit nuclear arsenals in a post atomic age? What is the guidance in the sunnah (example of the Prophet, peace be upon him) for how astronauts should dress? What do the hadith teach about living in space? Clearly, there is guidance in the Holy Qur’an and wise words of our holy Prophet, peace be upon him, which teach us how to address such matters. But we will not derive any useful solutions through a literal reading, but only through contextual interpretation and logical deduction.
Imam Usama Hasan is not wrong to state that Muslims need to move on from a basic children’s understanding of creation. He has every right to hold the views he does. No amount of disagreement gives anyone the right to issue death threats. Life is a sacred gift from Allah and not something to be taken lightly. We should be thanking Allah for every moment of the lives He’s given us, not threatening the lives of others.
Issuing death threats is completely unacceptable. Islam is a religion that upholds the principles of Law and Universal Human Rights of all human beings. But this new trend of some wayward folk, who seem to think it’s acceptable to threaten or take the lives of others, is a new low that has no place whatsoever in the deen of Islam. Murder is a crime against God and humanity, a crime Muslims have a duty to, where possible, try to prevent, not be the cause of! How far astray have these people gone, that they seem to think it permissible for them to kill or threaten the lives of their brothers and sisters in our human family?
Imam Usama Hasan’s scientific views are not in any way contradictory to Islam, it’s not like he was suggesting we change aspects of the religious practices of Islam or something like that. Even if someone were to do so, the appropriate response would be to discuss the matter with them, not to threaten their life and wellbeing. All Dr Hasan did, was to state a scientific view which he holds, one that is based upon well established scientific enquiry and evidence. The fact that he has been forced to publicly retract his views (which he obviously still holds) brings great shame on the Muslim community, and just shows how far we’ve departed from the ways of our great forerunners from the 13th Century CE. While the West has indisputably developed, largely based on knowledge learned in the Middle Ages from Muslims; it seems that some Muslims have devolved back to a state of ignorance (jahiliyya), far removed from the high academic understanding of truly great scholars of Islam, such as Al-Jahiz, Ibn Sina, Al-Hazen and others like them.
As a person who deeply loves Allah, His Beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and this deen of grace, mercy, reason and understanding that Allah has gifted unto us, I feel compelled to speak out against this ignorance and stand up for people like Imam Usama Hasan, who are simply trying to help Muslims grow in knowledge and understanding, both in terms of their faith and in other areas of learning.