Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Articles, Comments

Debate with Prof Lammi
Part 3: Context and meaning of the Koranic verses and Relevance of hadiths/Sunnah to Islam

Thanks you Professor Lammi for taking time in writing your response. Our discussions now address roughly 3 aspects:
    The context and meaning of verses & the relevance of ahadith/Sunnah in Islam.
    The way Islam should be addressed -rejection, reformation etc.
    The value Islam adds to humanity.
I seek to divide our further discussion in three separate sections and address them in sequence. This will keep our deliberations focused and easy for the readers to follow. This will also keep our responses brief. Readers often don't want to read very long discourses. In this section, I will address the first aspect.
Our common purpose is open discussion of these very important matters, and to fulfill that purpose let us not think ourselves as antagonists, but as friends who are working together. Therefore, I would like to register the mild complaint that your title for my letter, "Prof. Lammi: Islam-Watch is Irrelevant, Misdirected and has Misunderstood Islam" is rather more provocative than I would have wished for mutually respectful dialogue.
Your initial letter contained those charges which to me, belittles the effort of our website. To be frank: I have done the utmost and though, I do believe that there could be some room for improvement of our presentation, but this will be not at the expense of sacrificing our goals and objectives. Actually, I haven't created anything new. We appreciate fair criticism, which is the only way we can improve our website and its contents. For this reason, though irritating, we thank you for making those charges that might help us. Your charges, in no way make us antagonists or unfriendly. What we can guarantee you is that if we accede at the end of this discussion to your charges, you will become a valued friend for the helping us improve.
Our motto is to follow Voltaire's ideology: "I may disapprove of what you say but I will fight to death for your right to say it." Every man & woman is born free (without signing any kind of bonds to anybody, society, culture or religion) and as freethinkers, we uphold freedom and liberty and agree 100% with Article 11 of more than 200-year-old French constitution on man's inalienable right to free expression. We exercise it and appreciate and encourage that others do the same.
Also, while it is true that I am a teacher in Cairo, I am by no means an expert on Islam. That is not my field at all. My experience of living here has given me a certain perspective, but that should certainly not be confused with expertise. I speak without authority.
This means that I am not the person with whom to debate textual evidence. I do have friends with some expertise in that regard, and to the extent that our discussion requires turning with more care to the text, I will be happy to consult with them. But for this letter at any rate, I thought I should simply respond on my own as best as I can.
Let me make one thing clear here. This site is focused on scrutinizing Islam. Islam is based on the Koran and life of Prophet Muhammad, the purported perfect man ever to be born and chosen by Allah as his Messenger. Anything outside this is not necessarily Islam. So, we will keep ourselves focused on this aspect. Any actions of today's Muslims that are inspired by the Koran and Sunnah are within the scope of this website. Any diversion from this core focus of ours should be avoided in this debate. We must not forget that the core scriptures, viz. the Koran, Sunnah, Sirah and Sharia form the foundations of Islamic belief system.
You have said, "This means that I am not the person with whom to debate textual evidence". This suggests you are not willing or able to discuss the sole aim of our website, Islam. In this case, this debate will not lead to any fruitful conclusions. We make it clear again that from our side, discussion would be centered on the Koran and Sunnah/Ahadith (the two absolute foundations of Islam. You may wish to consult any expert whom you might know and that will be helpful for making this discourse more meaningful and beneficial for the readers.
You begin with quotations from the Koran and Hadith to the effect that apostasy should result in death.-..  
We would have to examine the provenance of the Hadith in question in order to explore this further. As I understand it, none of the Hadith is considered absolutely certain but there is a range of probability.
This has always been the excuse of the western-minded, apologist, western-resident neo-Muslims that Hadith is not relevant to Islam and that their correct recording is suspect as they were recorded 200 years after Prophet's death. Koran was also compiled 20 years after Prophet Muhammad's death and there are also similar chances of mistake (although to lower extent), which Muslims and their apologists are not willing to agree.
Having said that, let us put attention to verses [Q 4:89] & [Q 9.66] that clearly say that apostasy is a punishable crime. In verse Q 4:89, Allah explicitly specifies the punishment for this crime by commanding the Muslims to kill such apostates wherever found. Of course, this is to be followed by eternal hell-fire. I cited the Ahadith - not as commands but only to affirm that these verses from the Koran were applied by Prophet Muhammad and his comrade, Ali.
Prophet Muhammad's first biographer ibn Ishak lists cases of Prophet's dealing with the apostates by condemning them to death. Two such men were from Mecca who had accepted Islam and joined Prophet Muhammad in Medina. They later returned to Mecca and reverted to paganism. After his triumphant arrival in Mecca in 630, the Prophet ordered their execution for renouncing Islam. There is no report that the Prophet had spared anyone who had left Islam in his life-time. My article on apostasy, in case you haven't read, would be helpful to grasp the issue of apostasy in Islam.
Relevance of Hadith/Sunnah: Let me also clarify that there is no verse in the Koran which says that Muslims must only follow the Koran and must not follow Sunnah/hadith (words and deeds of the prophets). Allah explicitly commands Muslims to follow the Prophet (Sunnah & Hadiths) in the Koran. Here are 2 verses:
Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and beware (of evil): if ye do turn back, know ye that it is Our Messenger's duty to proclaim (the message) in the clearest manner. [Q5.92]
Certainly you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar for him who hopes in Allah and the latter day and remembers Allah much. [Q33.21]
Thus, an attempt to discard the ahadith from Islam is mischievous, dishonest and purely hypocritical. This amounts to violation of the commands of Allah and a clear case of blasphemy. Living is a country festered with Islamic fanatics, you should be careful about what you assert which may jeopardize your life - no kidding, I am serious.
The context issue
Let me note that the matter is complicated by an error on my part. My statement "context is everything" may not always be true. There may be statements that apart from context stand on their own as authoritative. Perhaps the clear statement in the Koran "no coercion in religion" is an example.
I have already agreed that context is relevant. And this is the most contextual verse which you vainly seek to push toward a non-contextual one. Let me first make this clear, in case, you are not aware. Prophet Muhammad's mission to preach Islam started in his home-town of Mecca in 610 AD where he spent around twelve years without much success (he had less than two hundred  converts by this time). Then he relocated himself with his group of converts to Medina as refugees (muhajirons). It was a successful strategy, which earned him many converts. Please note that in Medina too, for the first couple of years, Muslims were a weak force. The tone of the verses must be read in the context of this reality.
And this verse ('Let there be no compulsion in religion.' Q2:256) was revealed (or devised by Muhammad?) in Mecca, in the early days of his mission, when he and his Muslim converts formed a very weak force. Against one or two such benign verses in the entire Koran, there are dozens of other verses revealed at later times (when Muslims became a strong and secure force in Medina), which urges Muslims to kill, slay, enslave and to do all sorts of barbaric and cruel things. This article by one of our contributor will be helpful. I am listing a few such verses here:
1. Allah hath purchased of the believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the garden (of Paradise ): they fight in His cause, and slay and are slain : a promise binding on Him in truth, through the Law, the Gospel, and the Qur'an: [Koran 09:111] 
2. But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. [Koran 09:05]
3. Fight those who believe neither in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book (Christians and Jews), until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. [Koran-9:29]
4. Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them): thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens. [Koran: 47.004]
Speaking rationally, these later verses become more applicable from the simplest of logic that those were revealed as the ideology of Islam matured and Muhammad had the military strength to take on his detractors and foes. That is: these later verses contain more mature and finalized views/commands of the Islamic doctrine. Consistent with this logical conclusion, there are verses in the Koran that also urges Muslims to discard or give less preference to earlier revealed verses where there are 2 or more verses on the same topic with differing stands. Here I list the verses that assert such abrogation of verses revealed early in the formation of Islamic theology:
1. Allah does not abrogate any verse but substitutes something similar or better, He does not cause Muhammad  to forget any verse...2:106
2. Allah substitutes (abrogates) one revelation with another; Allah has the mother of the Book (the original Qur'an). ..16:101
Thus your cited "no compulsion in religion 2:56" has been abrogated and replaced by later revealed verses 8:12, 8:39, 9:5, 9:29, 9:73, 9:123, 47:4, 48:16-
One more logic point of need consideration. Note that "No compulsion in religion" is the word of the almighty creator. This means such intent (force compulsion on his children) ever crossed the mind of such an all-compassionate father. Well, only if I (Allah) had the power - which indeed came but at a later time and the almighty Allah forced that compulsion well on His independent-minded children (Jews, Christian, idolaters) by mass execution & enslavement (Banu Quraiza tribes) and mass exile (Banu Nadir and Banu Qainuqa) through Prophet Muhammad himself. Much more followed for centuries that encompassed Asia to Europe to Africa. 
And no kidding, Prophet Muhammad never broke a single command of Allah. Everything he did, as recorded in the hadiths, was commanded by Allah in the Koran. These mass slaughters, exile and enslavement were also commanded by Allah, of course, only when He got the power (strength of the Muslim converts):
33:26 And He brought those of the People of the Scripture who supported them down from their strongholds, and cast panic into their hearts. Some ye slew, andye made captive some.
33:27 And He caused you to inherit their land and their houses and their wealth, and land ye have not trodden. Allah is ever Able to do all things.
Your two quotations (Q 4:89 & Q 9.66) from the Koran are much more difficult to understand, and off the top of my head, even without context, I can think of alternate interpretations for each. For example, the first could have to do with a phenomenon I've run across many times, that those who wish to do wrong always try to get others to join them. You are assuming there's nothing problematic about the meaning of "disbelieve as they have disbelieved," but there may be many ways to disbelieve. And can we be so sure what "belief" means in the first place?
Now, there is this problem in understanding what this verse says. This turns out to be the case with all modern western-educated Muslims (and their non-Muslim apologists), who are aware of modern humanistic values and conscience. They cannot make out anything of those verses that appear unacceptable in face-value. Yet, Allah says repeatedly that the Koran is clear in transmitting the His message and has been written in simple language which every person can easily understand. I am listing a few such verses:
1. Allah had made His Qur'an clear and easy to understand-2:242
2. The Qur'an is revealed in Arabic (Muhammad's mother tongue) to make it easy to understand and give glad tidings and to admonish people (Muhammad's people)-19:97
3. The Qur'an is made easy to understand...19:99
4. The Qur'an is easy to understand and remember...54:17, 22, 32, 40
There are more verses (2:242, 5:15, 12:1, 14:4, 15:1, 16:82, 16:103, 22:16, 24:46, 6:195, 28:1-2, 43:244:2, 57:9] that says Koran is clear and easy to understand. Allah can only be right in that the complete book of guidance for humanity (The Qur'an is complete and makes things clear...15:1) has to be written in a language that was to be understood by any literate or illiterate person at the time it was revealed at and any time to come until the world ends on the day of Qeyamat. The truth is: human wisdom, logic, knowledge and capacity to reason has improved by thousands of folds since the time Koran was revealed. Yet, in today's world of excellence in science and reason, people with the highest degrees (PhD etc.) cannot make out what these select verses (seemingly unacceptable) mean. I have seen modern Muslims with outstanding intellectual achievement behind them, including decades of teaching in renowned Universities in Asia, Europe and America do suffer from the same crisis when comes the issue of these verses. Let me explain what this so-difficult (for Prof Lammi) verse (which almost blew Prof Lammi's brain) says:
They desire that you should disbelieve as they have disbelieved, so that you might be (all) alike; therefore take not from among them friends until they fly (their homes) in Allah's way; but if they turn back, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them, and take not from among them a friend or a helper [Q 4:89]
First part (in blue) of this verse simply urging Muslims (believers), to keep away from disbelievers who have left Islam/belief and who might be urging others to follow suit. The second part (in red) urges Muslims to wait to see if those renegades/apostates return to the fold of Islam (fly their home in the way of Allah) but if they don't - the believers should seize and slay them wherever found. This verse must also be read in connection to the preceding verses which also deals with such disbelievers or detractors from the right path (Islam):
What aileth you that ye are become two parties regarding the hypocrites, when Allah cast them back (to disbelief) because of what they earned? Seek ye to guide him whom Allah hath sent astray? He whom Allah sendeth astray, for him thou (O MUhammad) canst not find a road. [Q4:88]
I know that this explanation will be acceptable to those who are aware of modern human values and conscience. Neither will they come up with any solid meaning, nor would they agree to the example from Prophet Muhammad's life as to how these verses were applied asserting that ahadith's authenticity are suspect or irrelevant in Islam. The question now arises: Are these modern Muslims and their apologists going to suggest that these verses, which do not bear any tangible meaning (to some highly educated modern Muslims) be removed from the Koran? This should be done on the ground that they could be misused by followers of Islam because of their straightforward meaning which might cause death and suffering to mankind. This has happened for the last 1400 years. Will Prof. Lammi make such a suggestion to the authorities of Islam? Such a gesture will be a highly humane act on part of Prof Lammi, since this will save numerous (innocent) human lives in the generations to come who would otherwise be killed for apostasy from Islam.
Let me take up another logical point! Allah is the creator of the Universe. He is the most compassionate father of all human beings - not only of Muslims. Can Allah urge his followers to kill simply another human being for some kind of disbelief as suggested by Prof Lammi (which Allah did not specify, according to Prof. Lammi)? Is Prof Lammi going ask one of his sons or daughters to kill another of his own son or daughter who might disbelieve in something against his wishes?
I find the difference between your Koranic citations and the Hadith quite striking.
No there isn't any striking difference in the Koran & Hadiths that have cited. Hadith examples of killing the apostates are in complete agreement with the Koranic command [Q4:89].
[It's interesting how according to your own examples the Koran is so much more difficult to take literally. After all, it's originally poetry. Indeed, one could argue that all religious speech, not just Muslim, is poetic.  Maybe that's why the Koran is said to be untranslatable. It has been said of poetry in general that any good translation of a poem is a new poem. In poetry language, sound, and meaning are inextricably linked. I doubt that we can have an informed discussion of the meaning of the Koran without taking the nature of the poetic word into account.]
Here again, you should be careful against committing blasphemy against Islam. People are being killed by rampaging Muslim mobs or are thrown into prison in Muslim countries for committing blasphemy on a regular basis, which should not be uncommon in the countries you live in.
Having warned you on that, I assert that Koran is not poetry. As per the Islamic fundamental, it is revelations from Allah, the Islamic God for perfect guidance to mankind. Allah explicitly denies that the Koran is Book of Poetry. There are a number of verses to confirm this. Here is an example: Muhammad does not recite any poetry; the Qur'an is a clear message..  [Q36:69].
Indeed, the infidels of Prophet Muhammad's time had brought similar charges and criticized Muhammad's  revelations as mumbo-jumbo poetry. Those people were punished with death for their criticism/blasphemy. This has always been case through the fourteen centuries of Islamic history. 
[A Sufi of my acquaintance distinguishes between "belief" and "faith." "Faith," he says, is openness to the truth of religion"belief" is dogmatically closed. The second Koranic quotation doesn't seem on the face of it to indicate a sentence of death, but rather the judgment of God, which could go in different ways.]
We are not sure about your friend's authority to define these terms. Anyway, they are vague, and at best his personal opinion. More importantly, we are not dealing with Sufism. We are talking about Real Islam here. Islam is complete code of guidance for mankind, coming directly from Allah through a series of Prophets, culminating to its perfect form (Islam) through the last and best prophet Muhammad. Islam means unquestioned submission to this perfect code of guidance by all human beings. Aim of Islam is to bring all human being into the fold of this perfect religion of Islam by persuasion first. If this not successful then by applying force - including mass enslavement and summary slaughter, as was applied by the Prophet on the people of Banu Quraiza. After capturing the Banu Quraiza enclave, the prophet executed all men capable of bearing weapons and enslaved minor children and the women. Beautiful women were to be used as sex-slaves [Right hand possessions: Q04:03]. Please note that this practice, first initiated by the holy prophet, was used extensively by the Muslims throughout its history wherever they invaded - Africa, India, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and so on.
About the second verse on not stipulating death penalty for apostasy: there are similar other verses which also define apostasy as the greatest crime and punishable here and afterlife. The second verse is clearly talking about punishment here on earth. The first verse specifies what that punishment should be (kill them wherever found). The crux of the issue is: so long a single verse from the Koran justifies an action, its is Islamically valid - for eternity, to be precise. More importantly, there is no verse which prohibits killing the apostates. Last, but not the least: apostasy is the greatest crime, which is very clear in a number of verses. What should be the punishment for the greatest crime? The answer is, ultimate punishment - death. Again there is this vagary (amongst Western education-groomed modern Muslims and their apologists) that it is between Allah and the offender and should be left to the Lord to decide in afterlife. Against such claim, there are dozens of verses in the Koran, in which Allah is commanding Muslims to hand corporeal punishment including mass enslavement and summary execution and what not. The "greatest crime" (for apostasy; Q9:66] has been committed here in this world and the punishment should be starting here, and is to be continued in afterlife (Q 88:21-24; & Q 9:73-74).
Thanks for your time and patience. I look forward to your valuable comments. Once we decide to conclude discussion in this area, I will address the other parts of discussion, already raised. Subsequently, we can raise new issues and discuss them.
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