Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Ephemeral Sharia

Religion, the way dominant religious doctrines define it, is reduced to a package of do's and don'ts, also known as religious law, Halakhah, divine law, or Sharia; and a devout person is lowered to the level of a robot who strictly executes such package. Yet it is not explained that what such small details have anything to do with eternal salvation, which was supposedly the biggest promise of religion. In the case of Islam in particular, most of this package (Sharia) is derived from Hadith, i.e., the quotes and stories attributed to Mohammad (pbuh), which is not part of Islam as we we explained in the article Islam without Hadith. In fact the first reaction to the view of Islam without Hadith was saying "there would be nothing left from Sharia!", or asking "without such details how would Islam be even different from other religions?". In the article Abrahamic Islam we showed that from Quran's perspective Islam is for reviving the same old message that is repeated in all previous religions, and was not supposed to be taken as something new or different. We further explained that salvation is not attained by details of this Sharia or that Sharia, and that mistaking Sharia for religion is the unfortunate result of perversions in the dominant religious doctrines. In the article Islam without Hadith we explained that from Quran's perspective such details are left to be implemented by each people, according to the conditions of the particular time and place in which they are actually living.

The main criticism of this view is that Sharia is not a notion that is born with Islam; it rather has a long history in Abrahamic religions, where most notable are the Ten Commandments. Quran also mentions some ancient people that were punished by divine retribution after disregarding some commands sent to them. Along the same lines we have some imperative sentences addressed to believers in Quran, which in some cases are expressed with a distinctive cautionary tone such as limits of God [2:229]. Since the cautionary tone reminds of the divine retributions, the imperative sentences could also be of the same nature as the commands sent to ancient people, hence leading us to the notion of Sharia for the followers of Muhammad (pbuh): some eternal laws that must be followed to be safe from divine retribution or eternal damnation.

In this article we show that Quran contains no indication of an eternal package of do's and don'ts, i.e., Sharia. First, using Quran we illustrate the distinction between the abstract religious notions that is shared by all religions and their implementations that differ from time to time and place to place, and show that the implementations reflected in Quran cannot be assumed to be free from the conditions of the time and place for which they were specified. Then we argue that the strong cautionary tone used for some of the implementations reflected in Quran is not indicative of them being eternal; it is rather proportional to the extreme ungratefulness of disregarding the implementation despite the direct intervention of God for specifying it. We then discuss why such ephemeral implementations are reflected in the timeless Quran. Using this perspective, we then review the implementations reflected in Quran, and we show that if one reads Quran with an open mind that is not yet biased by the Sharia-centric culture, she would not be lead to the notion of Sharia as it is understood by the dominant religious doctrines, i.e., an eternal package of do's and don'ts that is the key to salvation.

A) Abstract vs. Implementation

All the prophets invite their people to the same abstract notion [3:84], which is good deeds [2:62], which would lead to meeting God with a peaceful heart [26:89] [Abrahamic Islam]. The appropriate implementation for this abstract notion varies based on the specific necessities of the situation that the believer is in, and it is not rational to assume that a particular implementation remains eternal or universal. Quran describes believers as the ones who consult with each other in their affairs [42:38] and refer it to the prophet only in the exceptional cases where they disagree [4:59]. Similarly bible also describes a structure that would requires Moses's intervention only in difficult disputes []. In fact, as Quran testifies, many implementations that Muhammad (pbuh) describes for his people are based upon the consultation with them [3:159] [49:7].

There are however exceptional cases too where a particular implementation that fits the best the conditions of the time and place, is specified directly by God and delivered to the target people through their prophet. For example for the people of Shu'ayb whose popular perversion were corruption in business, the implementation specified by divine intervention focuses on staying away from selling underweight [26:181]. Or in some cases God directly approves [4:114] or rejects [4:37] the implementation that the people came up with. The direct intervention of God to specify implementations were not a norm and happened in exceptional cases, including: i) A spreading perversion [9:64], ii) Questions from believers [2:222], iii) Believers' request for divine intervention in specifying an implementation [47:20] [2:69] [2:246], and iv) Muhammad (pbuh)'s shyness about the affairs related to him [49:2] [33:53]. Although the divine intervention is rare, when God directly specifies a particular implementation for some believers, they no longer have the option of pursuing an alternative [33:36] [2:246] [51:44] [65:8] since it would constitute being ungrateful for the gift of having that implementation specified directly by the creator.

Quran, the way it describe itself, is a book that is revealed to warn the people around Mecca [6:92]. Along Muhammad's (pbuh) mission that is reflected in Quran we can see the difference between the eternal abstract message and the ephemeral implementations specified for this people. Muhammad (pbuh) starts his mission from Mecca where it is mostly in abstract form: similarly to the previous prophets he invites people to worshiping no one but God and doing good deeds [7:168] [5:69], and similarly to the previous prophets he expects no material reward [11:29] [25:57]. After the continuous torture and persecution by Meccans, people of Medina (Yathrib) invite Muhammad (pbuh) to migrate to Medina and help implementing the religious view for their troubled society. From this point on, Muhammad (pbuh) is not only a prophet but also a leader who by the request of people and with the occasional help of divine revelation implements religious view in Medina and his requests are as the requests of a leader from his people [4:83]. The change of the tone in the new period can be seen in Quran. For example people are requested to take Muhammad's position into account when they go to meet him and speak at an appropriate volume [49:2]; or if in the Meccan period Muhammad (pbuh) similarly to other prophets does not ask for any reward [25:57] in the Medinan period asks people to sacrifice with their wealth and their life [9:111], and endanger their life by volunteering in a war that he is leading [3:167]. There is no contradiction between these two since the latter is the request of a leader from his people who have appointed him, and sacrificing life is not a reward for Muhammad's prophecy but the citizenship responsibility of Medinans [1]. We can see these two different tones in the same Medina period too: at one point although it emphasizes on the original principle of not asking people for their wealth, and that without it also their reward is reserved [47:36], immediately invites them to practice charity [47:38], and in another place goes even further and refraining from charity is named as one of the reasons for not forgiving the hypocrites [9:76] [9:80]; and these two are not in contradiction because the young and bipolar society of Medina who has appointed the prophet as its leader depends on charity to survive [63:7] and the hypocrites by avoiding charity were intentionally damaging the implementation of the religious view.

B) Distinctive cautionary tone

The earlier prophets cautioned mostly against the relatively abstract notion of polytheism where some deity/group are mistaken as the creator and obeyed accordingly. The prophets warn their people about such ungratefulness and the ungrateful ones eventually make themselves deserve divine retribution. As we move forward along the history, besides the eternal abstract notions, the revealed message also specifies some implementations, which the prophets warn about disregarding them, and again the ungrateful ones eventually make themselves deserve divine retribution. Considering the strong punishment for disregarding the abstract eternal message that is the same among all the prophets, and having that being continued for disregarding some of the specified implementations, might give the impression that the nature of the implementations specified in Quran must also be eternal that has qualified them to be expressed with such a strong cautionary tone; and if that was true then the imperative sentences in Quran could refer to some new timeless implementations, and the followers of Muhammad (pbuh) in the future millenniums could still make themselves deserve eternal damnation if disregard such implementations, the same way the previous generations deserved it by disregarding the abstract message.

First, we should remind that it is illogical to assume that a particular implementation, no matter how well it fits its own time and place, would remain the perfect candidate in all times and places. For example the Bible reports that Jesus, after explaining the rationale behind the divorce law set by Moses, specifies a new implementation that is more applicable to his people []. If we also take a closer look at the cases reflected in Quran, we see that even when the specified implementation is accompanied with a distinctive cautionary tone such as the limits of God (e.g., for the duration of fasting [2:187]), the implementation is appropriate for the particular time and place that it was specified for and cannot be assumed to be eternal or universal. In fact it is already an accepted practice among Muslim scholars to change even the implementations that are most explicitly specified in Quran; for example some allow doing ablution with having the shoes on, which contradicts what specified in Quran [5:6], or some suggest fasting in northern European countries based on hours different than what is described in Quran; In Quran the specified duration is from dusk until dawn [2:187], which although reasonable in Arabia, is impossible to observe in northern European countries where the day is between 20-22 hours, and hence irrational to be thought of as an universal implementation. Therefore, the strong cautionary tone cannot justify the specified implementation being eternal universal.

Second, the divine retributions mentioned in Quran were received by the ungrateful people who had the prophet present among them [20:90], witnessed the greatest miracles with their own eyes [2:50], received the implementation that is directly specified by God [7:138] [7:73], and yet disregarded it. For example Children of Israel after witnessing the greatest miracles with their own eyes [2:50], and while Aaron was still among them [20:90], turn into worshipping a golden calf [20:88] while its wickedness was already made clear to them [7:138], which made them deserve the divine retribution [2:54]. As another example the people of Salih, after it was clarified to them [7:73], slaughtered the miraculous camel against the direct command of God [7:77] which makes them deserve the divine retribution. In such cases the punishment is proportional to the conditions of disobedient: disregarding the implementation that is directly specified by God and received through a prophet that is living among them and to whom they have believed in after witnessing the greatest miracles. Likewise it is ungrateful when ِMedinans disregard the implementation that is directly specified by God and delivered through the prophet who is living among them [3:164] [9:128]. For example, Medinans in one case do not accept the prophet's implementation of fighting back the Meccans and demand divine intervention and a direct command from God for doing so; and God accept their request and reveal a chapter in which it is explicitly mentioned that fighting back is the correct implementation [47:20]. After this divine intervention for specifying the implementation we see the strong cautionary tone used to warn against disregarding it [9:38] [9:39].

Therefore we see that the strong cautionary tone stems from the absolute obscenity of being ungrateful for the gift of divine intervention in specifying such implementations, and is not indicative of the implementation being universal or timeless. In fact some implementations specified by guided individuals such as Luqman [31:18] [31:19] and Dhul-Qarnayn [18:96] are reflected in Quran without however any trace of a strong tone or being warned of divine retribution should they are not executed.

C) If ephemeral, then why in Quran?

We explained in the previous sections that the traditional view on Quran as a rival for the Ten Commandments is incorrect. The question that would arise here is that if Quran is not a collection of eternal commands, then what is the role of Quran in Islam? In response we should first remind that the imperative sentences of Quran constitute only a very small fraction of Quran; most of Quran's text is dedicated to explaining the relationship between the creator and the human, highlighting examples of fine human beings, reminding of the judgement day, and an overview of the past religious communities as well as their mistakes. We can blame no one but ourselves for abandoning this majority and focusing only on the small minority of the ephemeral implementations reflected in Quran. The problem is our wrong understanding of religion: we search in religion for the direct commands in the form of do's and don'ts, and if a book does not contain them we would not recognize the book as "valuable"!

Quran is revealed gradually along multiple decades. Many of the situations that are reflected in Quran are about the events that occurred along these years, and the corresponding revelation was to strengthen Muhammad's heart [25:32] and also to leave no excuse for the believers to disobey him on such critical moments [47:20]. There are also many evidences in Quran that directly or indirectly indicate that many of the implementations are reflected in Quran in response to the questions that the people around Muhammad were asking [2:222]

They ask you concerning [intercourse during] menses. Say, ‘It is hurtful.’ So keep away from wives during the menses, and do not approach them till they are clean. And when they become clean, go into them as Allah has commanded you. Indeed Allah loves the penitent and He loves those who keep clean. (2:222)

, which the content of the questions shows the very sensual concerns occupying the minds of those people. In other words, if those people had not asked for such implementation details, they would not be reflected in Quran either. This is while Quran already discouraged the believers from such attitude by telling the story of Children of Israel demanding the divine intervention to specify the details of how to sacrifice a cow (the story after which the largest chapter of Quran is named, i.e., the cow):

And when Moses said to his people, ‘Allah commands you to slaughter a cow,’ they said, ‘Are you mocking us?’ He said, ‘I seek Allah’s protection lest I should be one of the ignorant!’ (2:67) They said, ‘Invoke your Lord for us that He may clarify for us what she may be.’ He said, ‘He says, she is a cow, neither old nor young, of a middle age. Now do what you are commanded.’ (2:68) They said, ‘Invoke your Lord for us that He may clarify for us what her colour may be.’ He said, ‘He says, she is a cow that is yellow, of a bright hue, pleasing to the onlookers.’ (2:69) They said, ‘Invoke your Lord for us that He may clarify for us what she may be. Indeed all cows are much alike to us, and if Allah wishes we will surely be guided.’ (2:70) He said, ‘He says, She is a cow not broken to till the earth or water the tillage, sound and without blemish.’ They said, ‘Now have you come up with the truth!’ And they slaughtered it, though they were about not to do it. (2:71)

Quran even goes further and explicitly tells people around Muhammad (pbuh) to skip such unnecessary questions:

O you who have faith! Do not ask about things, which, if they are disclosed to you, will upset you. Yet if you ask about them while the Quran is being sent down, they shall be disclosed to you. Allah has excused it, and Allah is all-forgiving, all-forbearing. (5:101)

As another example when Medinans demand the divine intervention to specify what they should give as charity [2:195], the first time their request is implicitly rejected by reminding instead of the people who need the charity [2:215]:

They ask you as to what they should spend. Say, ‘Let whatever wealth you spend be for the parents, relatives, orphans, the needy, and the traveller.’ Allah indeed knows whatever good you do. (2:215)

And when the Medinans come back with the same question and insist on divine intervention to specify this implementation, their request is rejected explicitly [2:219]:

 They ask you about intoxicants and games of chance. Say: In both of them there is a great sin and means of profit for men, and their sin is greater than their profit. And they ask you as to what they should spend. Say: What you can spare. Thus does Allah make clear to you the communications, that you may ponder, (2:219)

, which is consistent with the common sense since there are thousands of ways to perform charity and a true believer would implement this abstract notion in every moment of her life; instead of limiting herself to a very particular implementation, and practically ignoring the spirit of the command.

There are other cases that after the cheap question of Medinans about their sensual concerns, although Quran mercifully does not deprive them from specifying an implementation, reminds of much more important aspects that Medians are being ignorant about and that they would be better to be focusing on them instead. For example when Medinans ask about sex, Quran informs them of their real intention and reminds them that the more important matter is avoid usurping the wealth of the orphans that they intend to marry with [4:127].

They seek your ruling concerning women. Say, ‘Allah gives you a ruling concerning them and what is announced to you in the Book concerning girl orphans—whom you do not give what has been prescribed for them, and yet you desire to marry them—and about the weak among children: that you should maintain the orphans with justice, and whatever good you do, indeed Allah knows it well. (4:127)

This pattern, i.e., implementation being specified after believers demanded the divine intervention, applies specially to the verses that are about war. Medinans were constantly under attack and fighting back was the reasonable reaction that was suggested but due to its difficulties some hypocrites were looking for every excuse to evade it:

Were it an accessible gain or a short journey, they would have surely followed you; but the distance seemed too far to them. Yet they will swear by Allah: ‘If we could, we would have surely gone forth with you.’ They [merely] destroy themselves. Allah knows that they are indeed liars. (9:42)

Those who were left behind boasted for sitting back against [the command of] the Apostle of Allah, and were reluctant to wage jihad with their possessions and persons in the way of Allah, and they said, ‘Do not go forth in this heat.’ Say, The fire of hell is severer in heat, should they understand. (9:81)

It is not hard to imagine that the same people would attempt to question the implementation specified by the prophet (probably after consulting with elites) to fight back Meccans, and would demand it to be explicitly approved by divine intervention [47:20]:

The believers used to say: “Why is a surah (that would ordain fighting) not revealed?” But when a definitive surah was revealed wherein fighting was mentioned, you saw that those in whose hearts there was a sickness looked at you as though they were about to faint at the approach of death. Pity on them! (47:20)

, which explains the verses that explicitly tells the Medinans (referred to as "the believers") to fight with Meccans (referred to as "ungrateful ones" or "Kafirs").

When we understand that we are not the target audience of the implementations reflected in Quran, it does not mean that we cannot benefit from such details being included in Quran. For example the details of the story of Children of Israel and the cow is reflected in Quran while no one is surely up to do anything similar in her daily life, yet as we saw above such verses had a crucial role in forming the view that is presented in this article. Furthermore a 21st century Muslim can still ponder the rationale behind such implementations and see how she can implement their spirit in her daily life. The verb "HaKaMa" which comes from "HiKMah" (i.e., wisdom) could refer to such process. This verb is usually simplistically translated as "to judge", which is a very special case of seeking the wisdom behind things [5:47]:

The followers of the Gospels (the New Testament) must judge according to what God has revealed in it. Those who do not judge by the laws of God are evil doers. (5:47)

Take fasting as an example: similarly to the previous divine books, Quran also recommends fasting. Along with such advice there are also some details that explain a good way of implementing this command for the Muslims surrounding the prophet. A Muslim in the 21st century can conclude that the very act of fasting is also beneficial for her but this does not necessitate that the details of how to do that would be exactly copied form the details told to the Muslims surrounding the prophet.  For instance Quran specifies the duration of fasting from dusk until dawn, which is a reasonable duration for the people living in Arabian Peninsula. But this duration in northern European countries is more than 20-22 hours, which makes implementing such details practically impossible.

D) Implementations reflected in Quran

Not surprisingly there is no clear definition whatsoever that from exactly which parts of Quran Sharia is inferred, and it is very difficult to dispute a notion that is not even well defined yet. In this section we therefore take a comprehensive approach and study all the verses from Quran that have some kind of imperative tone or have been used by some to infer Sharia as an eternal package of do's and don'ts.

D1) Imperative sentences

The article Scope of Commands in Quran lists some implementations where the lingual signs in the verse itself clearly indicate that the target audience of the specified implementation are the Medinans. For example [49:2]:

O you who believe! do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet, and do not speak loud to him as you speak loud to one another, lest your deeds became null while you do not perceive. (49:2)

Here the target audience are the believers who are capable of having an oral conversation with Muhammad (pbuh) and thus must be living at the same time and place as Muhammad (pbuh). In all such cases the verse begins with "O you who believe!" which lead us to understand that "believers" in Quran refers specifically to the believers surrounding Muhammad (pbuh) and accordingly the verses that comply with this pattern are addressing them. The evidence from Quran that supports this view is the following verse that defines the believers as the ones who ask for Muhammad's (pbuh) permission before they leave, which implies that the ones who are referred to as believers must be physically present at the time of Muhammad (pbuh) that enables them to be engaged in a common matter with him:

Those only are believers, who believe in God and His Messenger and who, when they are with him upon a common matter, go not away until they ask his leave. Surely those who ask thy leave -- those are they that believe in God and His Messenger; so, when they ask thy leave for some affair of their own, give leave to whom thou wilt of them, and ask God's forgiveness for them; surely God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate. (24:62)

A good practice in studying any text is to avoid out of context quoting. In the case of Quran the context of a verse is its chapter and the surrounding verses. For example, in some cases although the aforementioned phrase of "O you who believe!" is not in the imperative verse, it appears in the previous verses which could indicate that the phrase is omitted to avoid repetition. Take the following imperative verse as an example [9:29]:

Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Apostle have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection. (9:29)

We can see the phrase "O you who believe!" in the verse before [9:28] which reconfirms that target audience of the specified implementation are the believers surrounding Muhammad (pbuh):

O you who believe! the idolaters are nothing but unclean, so they shall not approach the Sacred Mosque after this year; and if you fear poverty then Allah will enrich you out of His grace if He please; surely Allah is Knowing Wise. (9:28)

This clear sign aside the verse is in Chapter 9, which is entirely about the final war of taking Mecca back. Although the chapter's content already indicates that it is about a specific war, there are lingual signs in the chapter that emphasizes on that, such as the adverb of place in this verse [9:7]

How shall the polytheists have any [valid] treaty with Allah and His Apostle?! (Barring those with whom you made a treaty at the Holy Mosque; so long as they are steadfast with you, be steadfast with them. Indeed Allah loves Godwary.) (9:7)

, which is also a good example that the terms "polytheists" or "ungrateful" are referring to very specific people at the time Quran was revealed. As we explained in Section C the reason that such implementations are reflected in Quran is the Medinans' demand for divine intervention for specifying them [47:20]:

The believers used to say: “Why is a surah (that would ordain fighting) not revealed?” But when a definitive surah was revealed wherein fighting was mentioned, you saw that those in whose hearts there was a sickness looked at you as though they were about to faint at the approach of death. Pity on them! (47:20)

and of course even the divine intervention did not help the ones who were sick in their hearts [9:86]:

And whenever a chapter is revealed, saying: Believe in Allah and strive hard along with His Apostle, those having ampleness of means ask permission of you and say: Leave us (behind), that we may be with those who sit. (9:86)

D2) The limits of God

In 6 cases Quran refers to a specified implementation as the limits of God [65:1] [2:187] [2:229] [2:230] [4:13] [58:4]. For example [2:229]:

Divorce may be pronounced twice; then either the wife be kept honourably or parted with gracefully. And it is not lawful for you to take back anything out of what you have given them. There is, however, an exception to this; if you fear that they might not be able to keep within the limits imposed by Allah, there is no harm if both agree mutually that the wife should obtain divorce by giving something as compensation to the husband. These are the bounds set by Allah; therefore do not violate them, for those who violate the bounds of AIIah are the tansgressors. (2:229)

When these verses are read from a Sharia-centric perspective, the term "limit" would imply some eternal limits since they are attributed to the eternal God. To understand it better we can take a look at similar expressions in Quran in which somethings is attributed to God. For example Quran says to fulfill God's covenant [16:91]:

Fulfil God's covenant, when you make covenant, and break not the oaths after they have been confirmed, and you have made God your surety; surely God knows the things you do. (16:91)

By looking at the other usages of the term covenant (A'aHD) in Quran we see that God's covenant means the covenant that people make with the prophet of God, and it is called God's covenant since it is considered equivalent with making covenant with God [2]. For example for the Meccans (referred to as polytheists or idolaters) who make covenant with his prophet it is as they have a covenant with God [9:7]:

How should the idolaters have a covenant with God and His Messenger? -- excepting those with whom you made covenant at the Holy Mosque; so long as they go straight with you, do you go straight with them; surely God loves the godfearing. (9:7)

Therefore although the term covenant is attributed to God, does not refer to an eternal notion. Keeping this in mind, if we review the term limits of God then we understand it as the limits that God, through Muhammad (pbuh), has specified for the people surrounding Muhammad (pbuh). The evidence from Quran that supports this understanding is the verse below which uses the full expression: the limits of what God has revealed to His Apostle [9:97]:

The dwellers of the desert are very hard in unbelief and hypocrisy, and more disposed not to know the limits of what Allah has revealed to His Apostle; and Allah is Knowing, Wise. (9:97)

It is worth pondering why only these 6 verse used the term "limits of God" which has a strong cautionary tone. Out of these, in five the term "limits of God" is used right after talking about sexual affairs. Considering the many questions that the people surrounding Muhammad (pbuh) asked around this topic we understand that their sensual desires were more active around such topics and thus more likely to go wrong. Therefore the implementations are specified with more details to the extent that it draws a clear limit between the right and the wrong.

D3) FaRaDa

In a couple of cases a particular implementation is attributed to God with the verb "FaRaDa". The Sharia-centric view usually translates it as "to ordinate" and in this way append such verses to Sharia. Inspired by other usages of this root in Quran, we can translate this verb as to highlight something by separating it, where the object is referred to with the noun "FaRiDah" and the adjective "MaFRuD". For example marriage-portion, the portion of wealth separated as a gift for wife, is referred to with this root [2:236]. The revelation of the Chapter Al-Nur that has a special place in Quran [24:1] and likewise the revelation of Quran itself [28:85] is referred to with this verb; so are the implementations that are specific to the prophet [33:38] [33:50]. Among the more general cases, one is about apportioning inheritance [4:11], one is about apportioning the charity among poor people [9:60], and the other is about separating a particular oath to be absolved [66:2].

D4) Written

The verb "KaTaBa" means "to write" and it is sometimes used to name inherent traits of God, which are eternal (e.g., He wrote mercy for Himself) [6:12]), and this kind of usages has been employed to argue that whenever this verb is attributed to God it refers to ordinating some eternal law. A simple look at the usages of this root in Quran clarifies the difference between the Book (KiTAB) based on which the universe is implemented [22:70] with the book that is revealed to some particular people [2:101] such as Quran. This verb in addition to the abstract notions, is also used when the people surrounding a prophet request divine intervention for specifying an implementation. For example, when the Children of Israel request divine intervention for specifying a commander, the specified implementation in this particular case is referred to with the verb "to write" [2:246] (translated as to ordinate in below):

Hast thou not regarded the Council of the Children of Israel, after Moses, when they said to a Prophet of theirs, 'Raise up for us a king, and we will fight in God's way.' He said, 'Might it be that, if fighting is prescribed for you, you will not fight?' They said, 'Why should we not fight in God's way, who have been expelled from our habitations and our children?' Yet when fighting was prescribed for them, they turned their backs except a few of them; and God has knowledge of the evildoers. (2:246)

Accordingly we can understand the usage of this verb at the time of Muhammad (pbuh) to be for the implementations that are specified for some particular use cases for Medinans. Here is the list of such cases: retribution [2:178], will [2:180], fasting [2:183], the war of taking Mecca back [2:216], not marring the close relatives [4:24], the war with Meccans [4:77], and prayers [4:103].

The expression "O you who believe!" is used either directly in these verses or in the surrounding verses, which according to what we show at the beginning of this section reaffirms that the target audience of specified implementation are the Medinans. It is wroth nothing that the two cases that are about war come with strong evidences in the verse and also in the surrounding verses that they refer to some specific wars of Medinans.

D5) AmaRa: to specify an implementation

"AMaRa" is mostly translated as "to command" and the verses that include this verb are usually appended to Sharia. Before reviewing such verses we first present a translation that is consistent with the other usages of this root in Quran.

The noun ("AMR") could be translated as a deed [5:95] which includes more detail as we go from abstract notions towards implementations. The verb ("AMaRa") could be translated as specifying an implementation. When the subject is Satan the specified implementation takes the form of temptation [2:268] [4:119]. Between humans, when the subject is people with power the specified implementation takes the form of a command to the public [4:83], and otherwise takes the form of consulting [7:110] or recommending [3:104] [4:114]. When the subject is the creator the specified implementation must be followed by the created object; when the object is the nature, specifying the implementation is as it being done [2:117] but when the object is a human [2:68] she has a choice of realizing the implementation [2:71] or disregarding it and making herself deserve punishment [65:8]. In fact the beauty in creation of mankind is that the human, in contrary to the nature, has the choice to specify the implementation herself [4:114], the power that will be taken away in afterlife when the only specifier will be the creator [82:19]. For a human, the subject of “to specify” in the case of fine implementations or good deeds could be the belief [2:93], the prayers and its spiritual effects [11:87], or wisdom [52:32], and in negative cases it is the sensual desires [12:53]. Eventually the implementation will be returned to God for judgement [6:159]. The eternal search for good deeds or fine implementations is the summary of life on earth. In this journey, it is expected the human help each other in specifying the fine implementations that fit the best the conditions of their time and place [3:104].

Among the cases that the verb "AMR" is attributed to God at the time of Muhammad (pbuh) two are relatively abstract:

Say: 'My Lord has commanded justice. Set your faces in every place of worship and call on Him, making your religion sincerely His. As He originated you so you will return; (7:29)

God commands you to deliver trusts back to their owners; and when you judge between the people, that you judge with justice. Good is the admonition God gives you; God is All-hearing, All-seeing. (4:58)

and in one case it gets closer to implementation:

Surely God bids to justice and good-doing and giving to kinsmen; and He forbids indecency, dishonour, and insolence, admonishing you, so that haply you will remember. (16:90)

In two cases that are again about sexual affairs, "AMaRa" specifies a particular implementation, which one of them is explicitly revealed after the direct request of the people:

They will question thee concerning the monthly course. Say: 'It is hurt; so go apart from women during the monthly course, and do not approach them till they are clean. When they have cleansed themselves, then come unto them as God has commanded you.' Truly, God loves those who repent, and He loves those who cleanse themselves. (2:222) Your women are a tillage for you; so come unto your tillage as you wish, and forward for your souls; and fear God, and know that you shall meet Him. Give thou good tidings to the believers. (2:223)

and the other specifies a gap between two relationships to avoid ambiguity about the father should a child is born:

As for your women who have despaired of further menstruating, if you are in doubt, their period shall be three months; and those who have not menstruated as yet. And those who are with child, their term is when they bring forth their burden. Whoso fears God, God will appoint for him, of His command, easiness. (65:4) That is God's command, that He has sent down unto you. And whosoever fears God, He will acquit him of his evil deeds, and He will give him a mighty wage. (65:5)

D6) Symbolic Rituals

The details of the symbolic ritual of Hajj is referred to as "ShaA'AeR" [22:36] (from the root Sh-A'-R) which is sometimes mistaken with Sharia (from the root Sh-R-A'). The root "Sh-A'-R" means to be aware [39:25]. The noun "SheA'R" has been used since before Islam to refer to poem [37:36] probably because it was considered an awareness received from the immaterial world [3]. The symbolic ritual of Hajj is also referred to with the same root probably because its symbolic nature cannot be inferred by reason and is an awareness that is received through revelation [22:67]:

For every nation We have appointed rites [of worship] which they observe; so let them not dispute with you concerning your religion, and invite to your Lord. Indeed, you are on a straight guidance. (67)

D7) Sharia

The term Sharia (from the root Sh-R-A') is used only once in Quran: "ShaRiA'ah of AMR" [45:18], which is usually translated as "open way of the Command":

Then We set thee upon an open way of the Command; therefore follow it, and follow not the caprices of those who do not know. (45:18)

The dominant religious doctrines interpret that as a package of do's and don'ts. The word "SheRA'aH" from the same root is used in the following verse [5:48] which is interpreted by them again as the religious package but with the difference that each prophet has its own.

And We have sent down to thee the Book with the truth, confirming the Book that was before it, and assuring it. So judge between them according to what God has sent down, and do not follow their caprices, to forsake the truth that has come to thee. To every one of you We have appointed a right way and an open road. If God had willed, He would have made you one nation; but that He may try you in what has come to you. So be you forward in good works; unto God shall you return, all together; and He will tell you of that whereon you were at variance. (5:48)

The above dominant interpretation does not make sense when we take into account the usage of the same root in the verse below [42:13] which says whatever is being "ShaRaA'a" to the people of Muhammad (pbuh) is the same as what was enjoined upon Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus too: "Maintain the religion, and do not be divided in it.".

He has prescribed (ShaRaA'a) for you the religion which He had enjoined upon Noah and which We have [also] revealed to you, and which We had enjoined upon Abraham, Moses and Jesus, declaring, ‘Maintain the religion, and do not be divided in it.’ Hard on the polytheists is that to which you summon them. Allah chooses for it whomever He wishes, and He guides to it whomever returns penitently [to Him]. (42:13)

So the term Sharia that Quran uses cannot refer to an exclusive package that is different from one religion to another, the way dominant religious doctrines preach. Ironically the idea of exclusive package is essentially dividing religion which contradicts the intention that is described in this verse!

E) Summary

In this article we showed that Quran contains no indication of an eternal package of do's and don'ts, i.e., Sharia. Using examples from Quran we illustrated that many of the implementations would not be even reflected in Quran if it was not for the Medinans direct requests for divine intervention in specifying those implementations, and cannot be assumed to be free from the conditions of the time and place for which they were specified. We then discussed why such ephemeral implementations are reflected in the timeless Quran. Using this perspective, we then reviewed the implementations reflected in Quran, and we showed that if one reads Quran with an open mind that is not yet biased by the Sharia-centric culture, she would not be lead to the notion of Sharia as an eternal package of do's and don'ts that is the key to salvation!

Appendix 1: Controversial topics in Sharia

Here we skim over the controversial topics in the current dominant understanding of Sharia, and show that the old, irrational laws associated with Sharia cannot emerge from the view that is presented in this article.

A.1) Slavery: 

Quran was revealed at the time when the social economic system in the Arabian Peninsula was already based on slavery. Inevitably the implementations reflected in Quran includes some details related to slavery. Nevertheless, the sole existence of such details in Quran is absolutely no indication of Quran's support for slavery. On the contrary, with pondering the implementations that encourage freeing slaves as a compensation for the wrongdoings of Medinans [4:92] [5:89] [58:3], it is understood that the intention of Quran was to have slavery abolished in the long term, which is the practical approach of making such fundamental change in the economic system. For example [58:3]:

Those who declare their wives to be their mothers and thereafter go back on what they have said shall free a slave before they may touch each other. That is what you are exhorted to do. Allah is fully aware of all your deeds. (58:3)

A.2) Jihad:

The revelation of Quran happened to be at a time were Medinans were under constant attack by Meccans. The conflicts was initiated by Meccans [9:13] when Muhammad's (pbuh) message for worshiping none but God started gaining followers [22:40], which continued by attempted murder of Muhammad (pbuh) [8:30] and eventually by having him and his followers expelled from Mecca [47:13] [2:217] [3:195], and escalated further when Meccans repeatedly broke their agreements [8:56]. Medinans request divine intervention in specifying a reaction to this [8:56], which reconfirms the already suggested approach of fighting back the Meccans [9:13] [2:217]:

Will you not fight against those who broke their pledges and did all they could to drive the Messenger away and initiated hostilities against you? Do you fear them? Surely Allah has greater right that you should fear Him, if you are true believers. (9:13)

In such verses the Medinans are referred to as the believers and Meccans are sometimes referred to as MoShReK [9:7] (translated as the idolaters or polytheist) and sometimes as KAFeR (a.k.a Kafir) (translated as unfaithful or ungrateful) [8:30]. The translation of "atheist" for the word Kafir is not consistent with the rest of Quran since this term has been used even for Muslims [3:167].

Applying the view of this article, having the implementation of Medinans fighting back Meccans reflected in Quran is absolutely no indication of commanding or even permitting a war in 21st century with some people with the excuse that they are atheists! Sadly war lords along the history have abused such verses to justify territorial expansion wars in the name of expanding Islam!

A.3) Women rights:

The fact that in the social economic system of Arabian Peninsula it was reasonable that women inherit half of what men do [4:11], is no reason that in the 21st century that women and men are equally responsible for family expenses such laws would still be applicable.

A.4) Hadith:

Quran instructs the Muslims surrounding Muhammad (pbuh) to obey him [8:20], which makes sense since obeying God's messenger is as obeying God [2].

O you who believe! obey Allah and His Apostle and do not turn back from Him while you hear. (8:20)

However there is no reason to extend the described implementation to the Muslims of our time, when Muhammad (pbuh) is no longer present. The current dominant doctrines, first extrapolates the implementation to us, and then for solving this contradiction that there is no Muhammad (pbuh) among us to be obeyed, invent Hadith as the solution: with exploring the Hadiths (or stories) "attributed" to Muhammad (pbuh) we "guess" what Muhammad (pbuh) would be telling us to do if he was living in the 21st century among us!

[1] In this article we use the term Medinans to refer to citizens of Median, which also includes the group of people who migrated from Mecca to Medina.
[2] "wāw" in Arabic vs. "and" in English, Safdar DushanTappeh, 2016
[3] God and Man in the Qur'an, Toshihiko Izutsu, Edition 2008, P-182

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Friday, November 27, 2015

Islam without Extremists

Once in a while the news are filled about a group of extremist Muslims who slaughter people and commit the most unthinkable crimes under the name of Islam. ISIS is a recent example. If you ask such people that why they are committing such obvious wrong deeds and still consider it the command of the God, they would answer that they are trusting a Muslim scholar and that they receive the commands of the God through him. Based on this trust they consider the scholar's commands equivalent to the God's commands and blindly follow the scholar's instructions to make the God happy. But does not this method sound too similar to shirk, the exact opposite of Islam's primary message, which is not following anybody except the God? How did this happen? How did that origin with the most clear message came to this obvious contradictory point?

In the "Belief vs. Trust" article,
we show that similarly to all modern religions, in the current understanding of Islam also believing in God is interpreted as trusting a religious package preached by the local religious scholars.
After analyzing the roots of such interpretation in all religions, the article shows that key element that legitimizes the incorporation of trusting scholars into islamic practice is considering Hadith as a pillar of Islam. The current Islam which is mixed with Hadith has become so complicated that leaves an ordinary Muslim with no solution but seeking the advice of some Hadith experts (or scholars) about "what Islam says". This blind obedience creates potential for extremism: if the religious scholar is extremist, the blind followers also apply the extremism in the name of religion.

Then in the "Islam without Hadith" article, we list the pros and cons of existence of Hadith in the current Islamic practice, and show that by eliminating Hadith not only we do not lose any of the core Islamic values but also we are given the chance to rediscover the Simple Islam, the religion which guides us to nothing but reasonable, beautiful deeds. In Simple Islam, which is free from the complexities of Hadith, there is no space for religious scholars to instruct their blind followers to such unbelievable crimes. In the "Scope" article, we then revisit some of the controversial topics in Quran, such as slavery and women rights, and observe a Quran very different from what the scholars have been preaching for years.

We are looking for volunteers to translate this article to
 Urdu, Hindi, etc. Use the contact form if you are interested.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

  • Q1: Those are bad scholars. But I am obeying good scholars!
         A: Quran warns about blind obedience. Read Section D of Trust article.
  • Q2: Some extremists claim obeying no scholar and just following Quran!
        A: They adopted a particular perverted interpretation of Quran stemmed from Hadith and backed by past scholars. They are essentially obeying those scholar's viewpoint.
  • Q3: I read Quran myself. It says "kill the infidels"!
        A: Taken out of context! Such verses are about a particular war with the criminals of Mecca. There were refereed to as "Kafir", which means ungrateful, as they were ungrateful for the gift of the messenger. Quran uses the word "Kafir" sometimes even for Muslims. Mainstream translations offered by scholars however translate "Kafir" as "infidel" causing this confusion.
  • Q4: Extremists are using perverted Hadiths. There is a huge science of telling which Hadith is reliable. I am obeying good scholars who know this science well!
        A: Extremists say the same about you. The bottom line is that both of you blindly obey, and both of you think that your scholar is the right one. Read trust article about blind obedience.
  • Q5: Why should I trust your article? are you a scholar?
         A: Do not trust people. Read their arguments and decide by yourself
  • Q6: Without Hadith how could we know the details of rituals?
         A: Section 4 of the article Islam without Hadith
  • Q7: Does not Quran itself tell us to follow Hadith?
         A: No. Read here.
  • Q8: Ignoring Hadith is ignoring Muhammad (s.a.a.w.)?
         A: No. Read Hadith-less Muhammad.
  • Q9: Can we understand Quran without Hadith?
         A: Yes. Read Quran is understandable without Hadith
  • Q10: Did not Quran force conversion?
        A: No. Islam in Quran means meeting the God with a heart filled with peace. What Muslims did along the history has nothing to do with what Quran describes. Read Abraham was Muslim, and Islam means ... 
  • Q11: How about Sharia?
        A: Quran does not indicate any eternal universal Sharia. Read Ephemeral Sharia

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Belief vs. Trust

"All you need is faith and trust!"        peter pan, the comic character

Belief or Trust: which is the foundation of religion?

Belief and trust in the current understanding of religion are synonym terms upon which the entire religious view is built. In the current understanding of religion, there are always some notions, rules, and rituals that cannot be explained rationally and the religious person is expected to blindly swallow them with the added flavor of belief and trust. This characteristic is so much highlighted in the current understandings of religion that the critics of religion view religious people as unreasonable people who completely abandon rational thinking and blindly follow a religious package composed of concepts, rules, and rituals.
In this article, we do not want to deny the existence of the element of "acceptance without proof" in a sane religious view. Nevertheless, we think that this acceptance--which we know it as belief or faith--in religion must be limited to a few items and its extension to a large set of rules and rituals (i.e., religious package), stems from another element called trust. In this article, we explain that trust not only is not something upon which the religion is founded, but also in some cases it is indeed the very same corrupted element that religion rose to confront it.
In the rest, we define each of the terms "belief" and "trust" in the context of religion and inspect their trace in Islam, as one of the major religions of our time.


Interchangeability of the notions belief and trust in the current culture is so deep that it has even influenced the way dictionaries describe these terms:
belief: the feeling that something is good and can be trusted
trust: a strong belief in the honesty, goodness etc of someone or something:
In the core of each religious method, there is unprovable element that the religious person is expected to "believe" in it [7:75, 7:76]. This unprovable element not only is not a weak point for religion but also resembles the live spirit of the religion without which being religious degrades from a heavenly state centered around the man's free will to an earthly, dead body of predetermined reactions. If the religious principles were all provable, then the very lively religious excitement powered by the love for the God [3:31], would be replaced by a collection of spiritless, rational rules that leave humans no choice but following them [36:11].
Nevertheless, the religious people along the history usually considered "belief" or "faith" as the down side of their lifestyle and would commission an army of philosophers and scientists to invent "arguments" for rationalizing the foundations of their religious view. We can still find traces of these continuous efforts in the many existing arguments for existence of God such as the theological argument. What is interesting is that there is not much evidence these so-called arguments have "convinced" the people outside the religious circle about the correctness of the religious view. It rather seems that the actual target audience of these arguments were the people inside the religious circle to have the next generation accept the religious culture the same way it is offered to them.
This fear from unprovability grows to an extent that the religious people would not even dare to question the soundness of these so-called arguments. For example, when the great scientist and philosopher Avicenna announces that even though he believes in the judgement day, he cannot prove its existence, he is threatened with Apostasy and hence death.
In the foundation of every religious school of thought, there are two unprovable principles: existence of God and the judgment day; i.e., there is an intelligent creator behind the world that will reward/punish us based on our deeds. There is no rational proof for any of these two principles and the religious person is expected to "believe" in them and--under the influence of this belief-- to stay away from wrongdoings [10:63, 12:57] and pursue right deeds [2:82]. The belief in these two principles, however, do not demand from him/her following any particular ritual or person.
Although the two principles of the God (the creator) and the judgement day are the essential basis for any religious school of thought, different branches of religion have also other principles to answer the following questions:
  1. How does the creator communicates with the creature? Is this communication also in the form of a conversation?
  2. How to identify the ideal deeds? And whether the creator has some ways for guiding the creature to the right path?
The answers offered by various branches of religion to these questions are different, but they can be abstracted into the principle of "the message". The message principle is to believe in a conversation between the creator and a few of the selected creatures at some point in the past. The message in general includes: (i) a model of the relation between the creator and the creature, (ii) reminding the creature about the main purpose of creation, (iii) describing a model of an ideal creature, and (vi) samples of the correct and incorrect implementations of that model in some particular periods of time.
Whether the creator has sent such message to that particular creature or not, and also how close is the text that we are reading to that sent message is not provable and the religious person based on his/her own religious beliefs decides on the relation between the present text and the original message. For example, in the religious approach of Islam, the religious person believes that one of the 10 readings of Quran is the same as the message that was descent to a person named Mohammad. Although this belief is strengthened after studying Quran and finding it not similar to any other texts on earth, similarly to the two principles of the God and the judgement day, it is not provable [3:75].


As we explained in the previous section, "belief" (or "faith") means accepting the existence of the creator and the judgement day without any proof. The belief calls the religious person to stay away from evil [10:63, 12:57] and to endeavor for good deeds [2:82]. Nevertheless it does not specify which deed exactly is good and which is evil. The practical question in the daily life is that what "concrete" deeds are the implementation of "abstract" notions of good and evil in each separate situation. In this article, we are not giving an answer to this difficult question. The author's position is that there is no unique answer to this question; sometimes harmony with the symphony of creation leads human to finding the right way, as the very same approach had led many of the prophets to separate their path from the wrong going of their people. Sometimes following the already guided ones helps understanding the correct path, as many people living at the time of the prophet were benefiting from companionship of the prophet [3:31, 20:90]. And sometimes reading the previously revealed messages and trying to comprehend the model of the ideal being explained in them can be helpful [2:2, 39:17, 39:18].
Instead of giving a vague and perhaps incomplete answer to this difficult question, in this section we analyze the answers that the religious people have adopted and show how these answers have led to the inception of the notion of trust in religious schools of thought.

A) The divine connection

One possible answer that many of religious branches have adopted is that telling right from wrong can be achieved via a divine, non-verbal connection with the creator. In this view, the divine person due to purity of his/her heart and its proximity to the source of truth can feel the evil nature of the wrong deeds and stay away from them. The main problem is that even though an ordinary religious person cannot reject the possibility of such a connection, he/she knows well that in practice he/she is far from such level of divine connection and pretending to that would be nothing more than a deception. What eventually will emerge in such a religious society is a majority of non-divine, ordinary people who are seeking the right path and a minority of divine people who "claim" having reached to such level of divinity that they can feel the right path. What facilitates the transaction between these two groups is an element called "trust": the majority of ordinary religious people can trust the divinity as well as the honesty of the minority group of divine people--to which we refer to as the Elders--and ask them about the correctness of their deeds. Among the groups that have implemented some version of this approach, we can name Catholicism, which is built upon trusting the honesty and divinity of the church.

B) Sample-mining

Recall that in the message principle the religious person believes in samples of incarnation of good and bad deeds in the past cherry picked by the creator and included in the revealed message. Believing the authenticity of these samples can guide the religious person to a better understanding of the difference between good and bad in his own time and life conditions. This guidance however due to the samples being few is limited to some general hints and hence does not satisfy the desire of the ordinary religious person of having a convenient religious practice that tells the exact commands of what to do and what not to do [38:6]. The first step in the religious view based on sample-mining is increasing the number of samples. For example, the Judaism gathers samples of the history of its nation in some thick books and keep them beside the original message, Talmud. In Islam also a large volume of the historical stories of the conversations between the prophet and the people around him are gathered and maintained under the name Hadith. Depends on the branch, some also expand the Hadith collection with samples of stories from the prophet's companions or his family.
The gathered samples can then be turned into religious rules. For example, if there is a sample implying that over a thousand years ago the companions of the prophet were avoiding a particular type of food, this sample could turn into a general religious rule that considers this type of food evil. The obvious problem of this approach is that the process of making general rules from samples is not well founded. That aside, the second problem, which is the subject of this article, is that no matter how many of such samples we gather, they cannot cover the infinite number of situations that religious people face in different times and places. As an extreme example, although the evilness of the unforgivable act of murdering a child is clear to everybody, in some special cases it was considered the deed that has pleased the God [18:80]. One-to-one mapping of the infinite situations that a religious person could be located in to a bounded set of religious rules is an unachievable dream.
The employed solution is creating new propositions by combining two or more of the original rules, which doubles the complexity of the religious practice to the extent that applying such a complex practice becomes impossible for ordinary religious people. At this point, "trust" enters the culture of this religious school of thought: here trust means accepting the honesty and expertise of a small group of the religious community for knowing the implementation of good and evil in the daily life. In this approach, a small group--to which we refer as the Elders--devote their life to data mining in the previous rules and samples, i.e., sample-mining; the ordinary religious people try to cast their particular situations in the form of questions and ask them from the religious Elders; the Elder look into repository of samples as well as previously generated rules and generate a new one: do this or do not do that. The ordinary religious person needs to trust the expertise and honesty of the Elder to be able to execute the issued order in the name of the God.

C) Religion + Trust

The primary problem of adding the element of trust to the religious culture is that the follower is not equipped with any tool with which he can verify the correctness of the rules produced by the Elders. If a rule does not conform with rationale the religious person cannot simply reject it since he/she is told that the God's commands are not supposed to justified. An ideal religious person is pictured as the one who executes the God's commands with no questions asked. Thus, if a rule produced by an Elder does not conform with what his/her heart tells him/her, rationale, the message, or the spirit of the religion, the religious person cannot tell whether the rule being unnatural comes from the Elder's  mistake in producing it or from the flawed understanding of the religious person of his/her own nature. The only choice of the religious person is to trust, either the expertise and honesty of the Elder or his/her divinity.

For a religious person born inside the religious culture that is mixed with trust, is difficult admitting the un-religious nature of trust as it constitutes the majority of the content of the religion he/she has practiced. For example, as much as religious people outside the Catholic circle view trusting the church as an awkward attachment to the original Christianity, the followers of Catholicism view it as the absolute view for salvation.

D) Religion Trust

We can consider trust as the first mistake in the history of religion when Adam trusted the oath of Satan [7:21] and ate from the fruits of the forbidden tree. Ever since the same element of trust has been merging into the religious cultures, with new names and under new covers. By reviewing the history of the current religious branches one can vividly observe the depth of the damage inflicted on religion after getting mixed with the poisonous element of trust. To keep the abstract notions explained in this article far away from the disagreements about historical events, we leave the review of the relevant history to the reader. We just advise the reader to investigate the damages inflicted by trust in a religious culture other than that of the reader's, so that prejudice of his/her own religious culture would not prevent him/her from free thinking. Instead in this section, using the verses from Quran we show that trust is one of the monsters that religion had risen against. However, trust in our era instead of standing against religion in a face-to-face combat, has merged into its soul and has become part of its identity.
In the rest, by emphasizing on verses from Quran, we explain the author's understanding of the correct religious view in Quran and show that how Quran refers to the dark notion of trust--which has become a holy word in the current religious culture--and describe it as the root of some deviations in religion.
In Quran's view, people who love the creator will reach the ideal destiny [3:31].

Say, [O Muhammad], "If you should love Allah, then follow me, [so] Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful." (31)

And the ones whose heart are not completely devoted to the God will end up in the incorrect path of following a special group of people, whom we can translate as the Elders [33:67].

And [yet], among the people are those who take other than Allah as equals [to Him]. They love them as they [should] love Allah. But those who believe are stronger in love for Allah. And if only they who have wronged would consider [that] when they see the punishment, [they will be certain] that all power belongs to Allah and that Allah is severe in punishment. (165)

And they will say, "Our Lord, indeed we obeyed our masters and our dignitaries, and they led us astray from the [right] way. (67)

Following the Elders will led people to apply the deviated religious culture of their local community.

And when it is said to them, "Follow what Allah has revealed," they say, "Rather, we will follow that which we found our fathers doing." Even though their fathers understood nothing, nor were they guided? (170)

And when it is said to them, "Follow what Allah has revealed," they say, "Rather, we will follow that upon which we found our fathers." Even if Satan was inviting them to the punishment of the Blaze? (21)

In fact along the history of religion the Elders have been a primary obstacle for proper reception of the message by ordinary people. Quran mentions some samples [38:6, 7:75, 7:90] that the Elders resist the message of the God and invite their followers to follow the incorrect religious culture of their community.

And the eminent among them went forth, [saying], "Continue, and be patient over [the defense of] your gods. Indeed, this is a thing intended. (6)

The leading men of his people who were bent on denying the truth, said, "If you follow Shu'ayb, you will certainly be the losers." (90)

Said the eminent ones who were arrogant among his people to those who were oppressed - to those who believed among them, "Do you [actually] know that Salih is sent from his Lord?" They said, "Indeed we, in that with which he was sent, are believers." (75) Said those who were arrogant, "Indeed we, in that which you have believed, are disbelievers." (76)

In several occasions [2:166, 34:31, 14:21] Quran foretells events in the judgement day that the misled followers will hold the Elders responsible for them having lost the right path.

When they face their punishment, those who have been followed will disown their followers, and all their ties shall be cut asunder, (166) those who followed will say, "If we could only return to the world, we would disown them as they have disowned us." God will thus show them their actions as a cause of bitter regret and remorse. They shall never emerge from the Fire. (167)

Those who deny the truth say, "We shall believe neither in this scripture nor in [any] that [came] before it." Could you but see when the wrongdoers will be made to stand before their Lord, casting blame on one another! Those who had been weak will say to the arrogant ones, "Had it not been for you, we should certainly have been believers!" (31) The haughty ones will then reply to the weak ones, "Did we keep you away from the guidance when it came to you? Indeed not. You yourselves were the guilty ones." (32) Those deemed weak will say to those deemed great, "No, it was your scheming night and day when you commanded us to reject God and assign equals to Him." But they will show their remorse when they see the punishment. We will put iron collars round the necks of those who had been bent on denying the truth. They will be requited only in proportion to their misdeeds. (33)

They shall all appear before God and the weak will say to those who behaved proudly, "We were your followers. Can you protect us from God's punishment?" They will reply, "Had God given us guidance, we would have guided you. It is all the same whether we are patient or impatient; there is no escape for us." (21)

There are examples in Quran that shows that the misled followers were among the believers who were in fact religious, but trusting the Elders led them to an invalid religion [38:6, 34:31, 31:21].

And the eminent among them went forth, [saying], "Continue, and be patient over [the defense of] your gods. Indeed, this is a thing intended. (6)

… Those who had been weak will say to the arrogant ones, "Had it not been for you, we should certainly have been believers!" (31) ... (32) Those deemed weak will say to those deemed great, "No, it was your scheming night and day when you commanded us to reject God and assign equals to Him." But they will show their remorse when they see the punishment. We will put iron collars round the necks of those who had been bent on denying the truth. They will be requited only in proportion to their misdeeds. (33)

When they are told to follow the [Revelations] that God has sent down, they say, "No, we shall follow the ways that we found our fathers [following]." Yes! Even though Satan is inviting them to the punishment of the burning Fire? (21)

Thus the Elders who were blocking the guidance from reaching people were not from outside the religious community--as mistakenly assumed. Quite the opposite, the Elders were actually the pioneers of the religious culture--which was deviated from the original, correct religion--to the extent that they produce direct rules for their followers stating that what the God wants them to do (this is a thing intended. (6)) and what not to do.

Appendix I: Glossary

To avoid confusion, we redefine the terms that are used in this article.

Message: the content of the communication of the creator with a chosen creature in the past. The message was indented to be heard by people in future to be their guide. As far as people in the current century are concerned, the creature who has received the message is not alive anymore and thus there is no way to receive the message directly from him. The message could have been preserved in the written form by ordinary people subject to mistake. Among the revealed messages that are currently available in the written form, all but Quran are scientifically proven to have changed from the original version. The absolute majority of historians believe in the same version of Quran--the differences are at the level of vowels. Quran claims that it is a miraculous book and people can verify this claim by trying to being a chapter like Quran's. The belief that Quran as the book that we read is the same as the message that was revealed long time ago, thus, does not require trusting the intermediary individuals along the history.

Messenger: the chosen person that the message is revealed to him in the oral form and he repeats what he has heard to people around him. There is no alive messenger at our time.

The Elders: the ordinary people that at the time that the messengers are absent take the control of religion and define themselves as the necessary hub for understanding religion. The way the elders make their position legitimate is either by claiming a divine spirit or by attaching a complex literature to the religion (such as Hadith) and claiming mastership in that literature (such as scholars).

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