How deceptive Islamists mistranslate the so-called "Last Sermon" of Muhammad to make it sound egalitarian and progressive, what it is not...
In recent years, Islamists and their apologists have been promoting a hoax in order to make Islam appear modern and progressive to the un-indoctrinated. It began with a spurious translation of the famous Last Sermon of Mohammad by Syed F. H. Faizi. His version—oddly, there are more than one—is being used today to cast Islam as a universal, peaceful faith, instead of—as critics argue—a violent, deceitful, Arab-centric ideology used by powerful clerics to control the masses.
Faizi’s translation of the sermon (khutba) is rather long, but the following key paragraph presses the right progressive buttons:
“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves. “
You might think this sounds very modern. Did Arabs even use racial terms like black and white? Did Arabs even call themselves Arab? Wasn’t Arab first used by western orientalists to describe a rather diverse collection of linguistically-related people? Is this sermon what professional anti-racists to alienated prisoners say gives Islam its street credentials?
The exact same Faizi translation, along with it adjoining unique commentary, is cut and pasted on Islamic websites across the Internet. Unlike most Islamic primary and respected secondary texts, virtually no source is given. Very strange, you might think; certainly this sermon is in an authenticated hadith (traditional stories of Muhammad) collection or the Sira—the biography of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq—if not in the Koran. Why wouldn’t it be sourced?
I was finally able to track down the origin of the translation from a cryptic “Faizi 145” reference; the only one among dozens of postings I checked. Searching an online bookstore, I guessed this must be S.F.H. Faizi, an Indian, later Pakistani, Islamist who wrote “The Sermons of the Prophet,” first published in 1991. I ordered it. I was right; the sermon is indeed on page 145, translated as “The Farewell Pilgrimage Address.” Yet, even Faizi does not provide his source. Highly unusual, considering how popular this version is with modern Muslims.
Faizi gives us as close to a source as he could when he describes in the introduction to Sermons how he translated and published a collection of obscure writings into English. He writes:
“This book is a collection of some of the selected sermons of the Holy Prophet which include long as well short ones as the situation demanded. They were not available in the form of Khutbas but have been derived from various books of Ahadith and history. It is only recently that some of these have appeared in book-forms along with original texts and translation in Urdu; but the authenticity of the texts thereof is still doubted by ulema. On English language, they are hardly available. So an attempt has been made not only to have them translated in English but also to find out circumstances under which they were delivered so that their delivery date could be ascertained and an elucidation made thereof. How far I have succeeded in my undertaking rests to be adjudged by the readers. Any suggestion or comment shall, however be welcomed to improve upon it.” (emphasis added)
In other words, Faizi said “derived” sermons from various unnamed books not accepted by the ulema (scholarly Muslim clerics). He does not know the original sources, but welcomes readers to help in his search. As a reader of Faizi, I’m happy to take a swag at it. Like Faizi, I’ll be adjudged by the readers.
It is well known that over the centuries, especially on the periphery of Islamic civilization, in places like India, a great deal of bogus religious material was generated. Even the Caliphate is known to have generated many bogus ahadith to legitimize its political claims. For more than three centuries while Britain ruled India, anti-colonial Indians, including Muslims, were very interested in finding significant sources of inspiration that would undermine the racial, ethnic and caste systems that oppressed them. This era also saw the black/white racial dynamic and the Arab identity being introduced into language. It is, therefore, no great leap to surmise that an inspired young Muslim cleric would decide to enhance Islam, by writing a bit of historical fiction in order to achieve a practical result. Who in pre-Internet, pre-electric India would know? A complete collection of authenticated ahadith was as rare as a magic carpet in colonial India. It wouldn’t be the first time someone wrote phony Islamic tracts; not by a long shot. Maybe our cleric even thought, “Well, if I must be Muslim (apostates are killed), then I’ll make it more suitable to me” –the old “change from the inside” strategy at work.
In lieu of hard evidence, I believe this scenario is more plausible than the fish tales Islamists routinely employ to explain ahadith. The Faizi version of the Last Sermon is not endorsed by either the Sunni or Shi’a ulemas, which each refer to different “authentic” sources. The Sunni ulema has for hundreds of years endorsed various fragments of the sermon diffused among authenticated hadith collections, most notably in Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. Today though, the un-sourced Faizi translation is the overwhelming choice for English Islamic websites great and small. It seems to have gone viral, you might say. At least two other versions are also used, but do not mention race at all. One Sunni version with the relevant passage reads:
“You know that every Muslim is the brother of another Muslim. You are all equal. Nobody has superiority over other except by piety and good action.”
Another version, this one translated by a well-known convert to Islam, Nuh Ha Mim Keller, reads:
O people, your Lord is One, and your father is one: all of you are from Adam, and Adam was from the ground. The noblest of you in Allah’s sight is the most godfearing: Arab has no merit over non-Arab other than godfearingness. Have I given the message? — O Allah, be my witness.
Oddly, Keller’s translation is accompanied by commentary by a Canadian Pakistani, Syed Mumtaz Ali, who borrows from the Faizi translation, without credit, to explain Keller’s!
These two versions are arguably a decline from Saint Paul’s letter to a nascent Christian community 600 years earlier:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28)
It is likely the pagan-born Muhammad paraphrased Paul, considering the obvious influence Christianity and Judaism had on Islam.
The Shi’a English translation also makes suspect use the terms black, white and Arab. The etymology of black/white racial dualism dates to the sixteenth century, and no tribe was named Arab in the time of Muhammad. The closest the Koran comes is using Arab to disparage a tribe that resisted Muhammad, “al’a’rabu asaddu kufran wa nifaqan” meaning: “the Bedouin are the worst in disbelief and hypocrisy.” The relevant text follows:
“Oh people! Know that Allah has assigned him (Ali) as a guardian and a leader for you, whose obedience is obligatory for the immigrants, the helpers, and those who follow them in goodness, and for everyone, whether nomad or city resident, Arab or non-Arab, free or slave, young or old, white or black, and for every monotheist. His (Ali’s) decree is to be carried out, his saying is sanctioned as law, and his command is effective.”
I’d say the Shi’a version doesn’t quite hit the progressive notes Faizi does, as it accepts without comment the hierarchy of classes that existed in the age of Muhammad. The traditional Shi’a sources for the Last Sermon, other than the Koran, are different from the Sunni.
Historically, the main point of contention between the Sunni and Shi’a versions is not about equality at all. It revolves around what two “weighty things” Muhammad left to his followers. Sunnis contend that he left the Koran and the Sunnah—a record of the manners and actions of Muhammad. Shi’as insist Muhammad said he left the Koran and his family (ahl al-bayt) from which the reigning Caliph, the political leader of the worldwide Islamic state (ummah) was always to be selected. This difference led directly to the split in Islam upon Muhammad’s death in 632 A.D.
The solution to the schism for many moderate Muslims is to cut the Gordian knot of sectarianism, by dismissing the disturbing ahadith entirely, and accepting only the Koran. But “Koran-only” Muslims still must confront the many horrendous passages in the Koran itself, as well as addressing the need which the ahadith filled, albeit incompetently. The Koran by itself is a confusing, incomplete basis for a faith without supporting documentation. Should the ulema grant themselves artistic license to replace the old ahadith with new, logical ahadith? Do for the Koran what the Talmud does for the Torah?
We are left to speculate as to how Faizi derived his Sermons. Did he invent phrases whole cloth? Were the sources in Urdu? Since he was Pakistani, could he have used Ahmadi texts? That would be interesting, since Ahmadi Muslims were declared apostates in much of the Muslim world, including their native Pakistan, and are often murdered for that reason.
No doubt the Faizi translation is a powerful stimulant for a young multicultural idealist or searcher unfamiliar with similar beliefs, like Paul’s “neither Jew nor Greek” sermon. In Christianity, while Paul’s sermon may not be truly universal because it urges accepting Jesus, God judges in the afterlife. On Earth, man has free will. Islam, in contrast, supplies a legal framework (sharia) for theocratic rulers to ensure Muslims remain superior to non-believers. Islam is mandatory for a child of a Muslim and for anyone who earnestly recites the shahada: “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.” This mandate clearly distorts religious faith—a person’s innermost feelings about God and religion. For this reason, Islam is often said to be more an ideology than a faith. For Islam to succeed, Muslims don’t have to be spiritually content, just obedient.
Although the secular left and Muslims share little in practice, they each share a claim to represent the little guy—the poor and oppressed. While there is certainly a partial truth to this, it is neither unique nor central to Islam. The reality is Muhammad was never poor or born into a persecuted tribe. He was from the noblest tribe, the Quraysh. At the time of his death, his closest followers—also from his elite tribe—were fabulously wealthy (except possibly Ali), fat on the booty stolen in attacks on non-Muslim merchant caravans. Islam, compared to other religions, came to the aid of the huddled masses late and with meager offerings. Only through centuries of massaging the message of the messenger have talented poets, artists and philosophers been able to squeeze water from Islamic stones. They either paid lip service to Islam, or the ulema issued a death fatwa.
Ending belief inequality, such as Islamic supremacy, was once a major goal for the left. It has been replaced by a singular focus on ending perceived western racism. Islamists thus exploit Faizi’s translation to manipulate the organized left, which has been led into an unholy alliance with raw Islamic terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas to destroy the institutions that make up western civilization, such as private enterprise, the bourgeoisie, and rights of the individual. While destroying these allegedly racist institutions is an ideological goal of the left, it is merely a hegemonic goal of Islamists, who, as conquerors, simply would stand up similar Islamic institutions. In Islam, private property, classes (including slaves and concubines), and “rights” for dhimmis (subdued Jews and Christians) and women are well defined (Polytheist rights, not so much). For now, though, a common enemy (democratic, entrepreneurial countries mostly in the west) makes Islamists and the left strange bedfellows.
Islamists—self-proclaimed master manipulators—have no illusions about progressive views on issues like gay rights, feminism, animal liberation, etc. If such ideas are not found in the de facto Islamic canon—the Koran, authenticated ahadith, and Sira—then they are not permitted. And to the extent that there is ambiguity in the text waiting for left-leaning Muslims to exploit—this has been shut off by all schools of Islamic jurisprudence. Contrary to modern assumptions, many modern ideas are not new, even to Islam. But the doors to innovation (ijtihad) were officially closed centuries ago by consensus (ijma) of all Islamic schools of law (madhhabs). Islam is therefore not in the least friendly to reinterpretation, and mass communication seems to be making this more so, not less. Muslim theocrats and scholars are increasingly able to filter out weak ahadith and the accumulation of centuries of attempts by secular-leaning Muslims to expand Islam to include freedoms that Muhammad never contemplated or forbid outright. The ulema can because they have the political power to carry out Muhammad’s command never to alter or distort a word of his message.
It is quite possible that Faizi convinced himself his translation is authentic, although he freely admits the ulema does not accept his unnamed references. But why does the ulema now promote if not endorse the Faizi version? Is it a case of Islamic ecumenicism that occasionally arises, even including avowed racist sects like the Nation of Islam? Or is it a situation like that of the Gospel of Barnabas, a Tunisian forgery dated to the sixteenth century about an Islamic Jesus, intended to prove to Christian Europe that its Bible was corrupt. Or is the ulema attempting to sanitize a cruel and bigoted Muhammad as a saint after all. Indeed, the Faizi sermon is leveraged constantly by Islamists today to end discussion on the long history of Arab supremacy and racism related to Islam. That would put the Faizi version squarely alongside the infamous forged Hitler Diaries “found” in 1983, intended to prove Hitler did not know about the Holocaust.
It’s only when pseudo-Islamic writings such as Faizi’s convince non-Muslims and wayward Muslims of an imaginary feel good Islam do the ulema look the other way. The religion of Islam should not be confused with defunct classical Islamic civilization—produced by conquered peoples only halfway in the process of their Islamification. The religion of Islam is a set of written documents, not a culture. Islamic doctrine was finalized about two centuries after Muhammad died, when the final authenticated ahadith were recorded. The ulema will not and cannot incorporate pretty Islamic propaganda into Islam, to the dismay of many Muslims.
Islamists, in keeping with their insecure habit of finding Muslims at the root of every major innovation, including the airplane and golf, market the Last Sermon to the left as the world’s first Charter on Social Justice. Yet the version they most promote, without sources, effectively dates to 1991. In the end, it doesn’t matter when it was published, or if it is a fraud. The proof is in the headlines. Today, as this is written, Hamas killed the leader of a rival jihadist group, a Muslim in Ohio threatened to kill his apostate daughter, the Taliban claimed responsibility for bombing NATO’s Kabul headquarters, and sharia law has failed to deliver equality and accountability to northern Nigeria. Slow day—is it Ramadan?