Friday, November 27, 2015

Scope of Commands in Quran

"This is in Quran"; 
This expression is quite common among Muslims. After this phrase, usually an imperative sentence of Quran, irrespective to the text before or after it, is separated from its context and is mentioned as the direct command of the God to the Muslims living in the 21st century. The underlying assumption behind this culture is that the audience of the imperative sentences of Quran are the Muslims of all places and all times until eternity. In this article, we challenge this assumption and conclude that the by default the audience of the commands in Quran are the Muslims around the prophet, and if one wants to extrapolate the scope of these commands to the Muslims of our time, she would need to provide a strong argument, and solely quoting the command from Quran is not sufficient. We then redefine the role of Quran in the religious practice of Islam, and leveraging this new view we revisit Sharia and some of its controversial laws such as slavery in Quran.

Contradictory Examples

By taking the context (the verses before and after a sentence) of many commands in Quran into account, it can be easily understood that the target audience of such commands were a specific group of Muslims surrounding the prophet. But since this view is very different from that of the current religious culture--and thus controversial--here we apply proof by contradiction and show that there exist cases that by solely looking at the text of the command it can be easily seen that its extrapolation to the Muslims of our time is impossible.
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)

Here we can clearly see the audience of the command are Muslims who are alive while Quran is being descent.
O you who have faith! When you converse privately with the Apostle, offer a charity before your private talk. That is better for you and purer. But if you cannot afford [to make the offering], then Allah is indeed all-forgiving, all-merciful. (58:12)
Here the audience are Muslims who are able to whisper into ears of the prophet and hence have a private conversation with him.

O you who have faith! Do not enter the Prophet’s houses for a meal until you are granted permission, without hanging around for it to be readied. But enter when you are invited, and disperse when you have taken your meal, without cozying up for chats. Such conduct on your part offends the Prophet, and he is ashamed of [asking] you [to leave]; but Allah is not ashamed of [expressing] the truth. When you ask [his] womenfolk for something, do so from behind a curtain. That is more chaste for your hearts and theirs. You should not offend the Apostle of Allah, nor may you ever marry his wives after him. Indeed that would be a grave [sin] with Allah. (33:53)
Here the audience must be capable to physically enter the house of the prophet, and hence the audience is commanded to first ask for permission.
O you who have faith! Do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet, and do not speak aloud to him like you shout to one another, lest your works should fail without your being aware. (49:2)
Here the audience are Muslims who are capable of an oral conversation with the prophet.
O you who have faith! Obey Allah and His Apostle, and do not turn away from him while you hear [him]. (8:20)
Here the audience are the Muslims who participate in a live conversation with the prophet.

O you who have believed, do not take My enemies and your enemies as allies, extending to them affection while they have disbelieved in what came to you of the truth, having driven out the Prophet and yourselves [only] because you believe in Allah, your Lord. If you have come out for jihad in My cause and seeking means to My approval, [take them not as friends]. You confide to them affection, but I am most knowing of what you have concealed and what you have declared. And whoever does it among you has certainly strayed from the soundness of the way. (60:1)
Here the verse describes people of Mecca as the enemies of the target audience, and lists crimes Meccans have committed against them.

Another 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)

Then, What would be the purpose of Quran?

The contradictory examples in the previous section showed that the traditional view of "Quran as a rival for ten commandment" is incorrect. The question that would rise 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 commands of Quran constitute only a small part 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 commands, and our mistakes does not decrease anything from the value of Quran. The problem is our wrong understanding of religion: we search in religion for the direct commands in the form of "do" and "don't", and if a book does not contain them we would not recognize the book as "valuable"!

On the other hand when we understand that we are not the target audience of commands in Quran, it does not mean that we cannot benefit from such commands being included in Quran. A Muslim in the 21st century can analyze the rational behind these commands and see how she can apply the spirit of such commands in her daily life. For instance, 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. The 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 example Quran specifies the duration of fasting from dusk until dawn, which is a reasonable duration for 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.

Nothing would be left from Sharia!

In the traditional view, religion is equivalent to Sharia: religion has come to tell us exactly what to do and what not to do; and if we perform all such instructions with all the details exactly then we go to heaven! It is totally neglected that how such details are supposed to help human to grow spiritually so that eventually deserves the heaven. 99% of the current religious culture is developed around such details and if a theory questions the importance of these details it would sound like questioning the religion itself. Nevertheless, this religious culture is not consistent with Quran, since most of Quran has nothing to do with such details. On the contrary, Quran suggests the Muslims who are present when Quran was being descent, to avoid unnecessary questions about details (5:101). Common people also deep in their heart do not believe in the importance of such details, and judge people based on the individual as well as social consequences of their deeds, and not based on their beard's size for example.
Sharia still exists in the view of this article to Quran but it is up to us to figure its details, which highly depend on the conditions of time, place, and culture. This is us who decides what is the best way of doing charity in our neighborhood; this is us who decides what is the healthiest economical system at our time. Figuring out this optimal way of living requires science, understanding the needs of human in the social environment, and also the characteristics of ideal human being that is supposed to grow in this society. The concern that would naturally rise here is that with this approach a Muslim might come to the conclusion that for example even praying is no longer necessary at our time. In response we should first remind that salvation cannot be forced upon people; even now many Muslims do not establish the prayers that is considered mandatory by the current religious culture, or if they do, they perform it so reluctantly that defeats the original purpose of praying. If the view of this article becomes popular this group of Muslims would probably be the ones that ignore the hundreds of emphases in Quran on establishing the prayers. At the end, the Muslims who follow the recommendation of Quran and remember the God repeatedly along the day, are the ones who practically benefit from this remembrance.

An overview of the old Sharia with the novel perspective

In this section we do a quick overview over the controversial topics in the current dominant understanding of Sharia, and show that the old, irrational rules associated with Sharia cannot emerge with this novel perspective on Quran.

Slavery: Quran was descent at the time that slavery was the principal pillar of the economical system in the Arabian Peninsula. Inevitably the rules distilled for the people of Arabia includes some details related to slavery. In the novel view of Quran, the existence of such details is absolutely no indication of Quran's support for slavery. On th contrary, with pondering the commands that suggests releasing slaves as a compensation for the committed sins, it is understood that the intention of Quran was terminating slavery in long term.

War with Nonbelievers: The fact that Quran tells the people of Medina to fight back the ungrateful (Kafir, also translated as non-believer) people of Mecca, is absolutely no justification of initiating a war in the 21st century with the excuse that they are ungrateful! On the contrary by looking at the context of such verses it is understood that the reasons for the war had nothing to do with the belief system of Meccans. Also with the novel view of Quran the territory-expanding wars initiated by Muslims along the history with the excuse of expanding Islam, is condemned.

Women rights: The fact that in the social and economical system of Arabian Peninsula it was reasonable that women inherit half of what men do, is no reason that in the 21st century that women and men are equally responsible for family expenses such rules would still be rational.

Hadith: Quran instructs the Muslims surrounding the prophet to follow him, which makes sense. But there is no reason to extend the command to the Muslims of our time, when the prophet is no longer present. The current religious culture, first extrapolates the command to us, and then for solving this contradiction that there is no prophet among us to be followed, invents Hadith as the solution: with exploring the Hadiths (or stories) "attributed" to the prophet we "guess" what the prophet would have recommended to do if he was living in the 21st century among us!!

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

No comments:

Post a Comment