Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Understanding Qur'anic teachings: an Examination of the Functions of Virtue and Evil

Understanding Qur’anic Teachings: An Examination of the Functions of Virtue and Evil

All of us can identify what we see as manifest evil in our world. Among the top of this, we can name murders, wars, rape, and other crimes. These are all acts which largely fall in the control of individuals. Philosophers would call these actions moral evil. The seemingly destructive worldview of many humans can lead to a loss of faith, in both God and humanity itself.

In a similar vein, natural disasters, such as what we have witnessed recently in Indonesia, can have the same affect. Indeed, many will point to natural disasters to “prove” that God does not exist! Disasters such as tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, are all among the events beyond human abilities to control or direct, and as such philosophers refer to them as examples of natural evil.

God: The Ultimate Source of all events

In a world that largely depicts God and the Devil as equal co-potentials [even though they are perceived as representing polar opposites], it is understandable that there would be some confusion on the place of good and evil. We must admit that both inside and outside the Muslim Ummah, there have always been debates and differences among leading figures and thinkers on these issues.

The Qur’an says: “Praise belongs to Allah, who has created the Heavens and the Earth, and has made darkness and light [wa ja’aladh- dhulumaati wan Noor]. Despite this, the ‘Kuffaar’ ascribe equals to their ‘Rabb’ [Thummal ladheena kafaroo bi-Rabbihim Ya’diloon].” [Q 6:1]

The latter sentence clearly expresses a refutation of the idea of dualism, a Zoroastrian tenant which has influenced other faiths and philosophers. Dualism is the term that is used to explain the notion that God and the Devil both exist as equal co-potentials. The above Qur’anic verse shows that Allah, the most high, is the source of ‘darkness’ [Dhulumaat is actually the plural of ‘dhulm’, which can also mean ‘oppression’] as well as ‘light’. Similarly, in a Soorah that we have all memorized, a text that is recited when seeking protection from Satan [ Saheeh Al-Bukhari, 58:1805, Kitaab at-Tafseer], we are told to say, in part, to seek refuge with Allah “from evil which he has created” [ Min Sharri Maa Khalaq] {Q 113:2].

Struggles with evil are a tool for human development

To understand the Islamic perception on issues of this kind, we must treat the entire Qur’an as a united, coherent text, looking at the whole to understand its parts. The Qur’anic teaching is that God has placed humans in this world to have the role of Khalifah. We are to be stewards in this life that God has given us. Oftentimes, this role requires ‘on the job’ training, in order to be prepared for future challenges, in order to have moral, spiritual, material growth. In addition to this, as Muslims we have to remember these lessons, especially when there has been loss of physical life. This world is only the stepping stone into the next life, an existence that is eternal. Rather than loosing faith, we are to recognize that God alone is Al-‘Aleem [the All-knowing] and Al-Hakeem [The Wise]. “And put all of your trust [in Allah], if you are indeed believers.” [Q 5:23]

[Shamsuddin Waheed is Imam at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam, which has recently re-opened the historic Islamic Center at 722 E. Bancroft Street. More of his writings can be found at]

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Questions on Islamic law: Apostasy, in light of Qur'an and Hadeeth

The following is an old post I made on other sites, in response to questions posed about the usual notion that a person who decides to "leave Islam" is to be executed. The question seems to get repeated of late, so below is a brief statement on the subject. Comments are always welcome, thanks and Salaam.

Salaam all,

A] Islam is a faith of utmost intellectual and spiritual conviction. We know this when we have only a cursory look at the Qur'an. Repeatedly, it points to Ayaat [signs] in the creation, even in ourselves, as evidence of Allah's power as well as his being the source of the Qur'an.

[B] Yes, the Qur'an says "No compulsion in the Deen" [Laa Ikraha Fid deen]. The reason for that is "The right guidance is very clear, distinct from confusion or misguidance" [Qad TabayyanaR-Rushdoo min al Ghiyy]. Allah does not need our salaah, fasting, Shahaadah or any of that. We require those things. For our guidance and spiritual salvation. If Allah does not need our 'Ibaadah, then why should we execute someone?

[C] The Prophet [Sall-Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam] was, without doubt, the best Daa'ee. As such, there are very few reports in the hadeeth books dealing with the Prophet and "apostasy". Where such reports do exist [if we accept the reports as accurate & complete renderings of the events] we always see it in connection with something else. For example, there's a report that the Prophet executed "apostates" after sending them missionaries, at their request, but the report clearly states that the particular group laid a trap for the Muslim missionaries, killing them and plundering their goods. So, the punishment here was not for apostasy necessarily, but rather for murder.

[D] "Apostasy" was just another word for treason, or rebellion against the authorities. Such is clearly what occurred in the early days of Abu Bakr's rule.

[E] There has been debate for generations about some aspects of all this. For example, a Muslim who recognizes that Allah is One God, and Muhammad is his Prophet, yet prays only on fridays or the 'Eid [which is the case for many today], or, does not pray at all. Many would see such a person as an "apostate". My point being, if a government punishes people for "apostasy", it's going to be very subjective, and in the end accomplish nothing.

[F] Personal conviction and practice is, in the end,the business of the person and God. Unless he or she starts to attack Islam, with the purpose of destroying the UMMAH , we should leave them alone, both as a Muslim state and as individuals.

[G] Because of the logic inherent in Islam, there has historically been very few cases of apostasy. Moreover, in those days, all religious communities saw apostasy as punishable by execution, so it would have been logical for muslims to assume the same, even if never seen or done in their lifetime. It's one of those things people may never really think about because it never happens.

[H] Finally, back to the Qur'an. It tells us "And a party of Ahlil Kitaab asserted among themselves 'proclaim Imaan in that which has been sent to those who believe [meaning, pretend to believe just as Muslims do], in the beginning of the day, and [then proclaim] disbelief [wa akfurooo] in the night, so that hopefully, they [the Muslims] will return back [to Jaahiliyyah, i.e. reject Islam themselves] [La'allahum Yar ji'oon.] "[3:71].

Their plot was simple, this is a reference to Jews here, according to all Mufassireen. They would say the Shahaadah, etc.. and then "give it up", in order to demoralize the naive Muslims, convincing them that Islam was not a worth-while religion. The Qur'an clearly records their plot, something which scholars have acknowledged as well. Such a plot would be unthinkable had the punishment for apostasy [remember, this was in Madinah, where the Prophet was in charge] been the death penalty.

Any reports coming from the time of the Prophet, if we accept as accurate, are clearly with regards to treason, murder etc.. and not because someone was not intellectually convinced that he [Muhammad, 'Alayhis salaatu was salaam] was a Prophet.

Wallaahu A'laam,