Posted by: mystic444 | September 26, 2010

Abrogation in the Qur’an

Someone sent me a link to a video claiming to give the ‘real story’ on Islam. It’s an 8 minute and 10 seconds video. Muslims will no doubt find it both amusing and infuriating. It’s certainly a far cry from the ‘real story’! 😆 The following is the response I sent, with only a couple of minor changes:

“Thanks for sending the link to the video. I watched the entire video and, unfortunately, found it to be the usual disinformation propagated by people with a hate-filled agenda. None of the accusations against Islam given in the video were new to me; and the only ‘surprising’ thing is that such distortions continue to be propagated despite the fact that for the most part one only has to start reading the Qur’an for oneself to easily refute them. (And they have been thoroughly refuted by mainstream Muslims.) But that’s not really surprising either.

I sent you the link to a couple of articles I have previously written about some of the misrepresentations of Islam: “Does Islam Proclaim That All Muslims Should Be Killed” and “Islam’s Relationship to Judaism and Christianity”. I don’t know whether you had sufficient time or interest to read them; but if you have, you should be able to clearly see that Islam does not call for the murder of ‘infidels’, and actually embraces Jews, Christians, and all who worship God and do the good works that flow from genuine faith in God. The fact that such non-Muslims do not officially embrace the religion of Islam does not keep them from being recognized as fellow members in the “household of faith” and respected. It is this fact that is so attractive to me, with my “liberal” eclectic faith. Perhaps I even sound like I have fully embraced Islam! 😀

In response to the video, I would like to make some comments on “abrogation” – the idea that later verses of the Qur’an contradict and abrogate earlier verses. For other aspects of the video, I’ll give you 2 or 3 links to other articles, from actual Muslims, that will do a much better job than I could of giving a presentation of the genuine views of Islam and a thorough going refutation of the misrepresentations.

There are 3 passages in the Qur’an which speak of God annulling former revelation. You can look them up for yourselves in the English translation of Muhammad Asad by going to this site. There is a box on the upper right of the page that has the name of the Sura (chapter) in English letters, Arabic script, and then the number of the Sura. The link takes you to the page for Sura 2. There is a drop down arrow in the box which you can click to give you a list of all the Suras, and you can click on the one you want. This site has notes on the text following the text itself. The notes are numbered to correspond with the verse numbers.

The first passage is 2:106, but I’ll also quote verse 105 to give it a bit of context. [2:105] Neither those from among the followers of earlier revelation who are bent on denying the truth, nor those who ascribe divinity to other beings beside God, would like to see any good ever bestowed upon you from on high by your Sustainer; but God singles out for His grace whom He wills – for God is limitless in His great bounty.[2:106] Any message which we annul or consign to oblivion We replace with a better or a similar one. Dost thou not know that God has the power to will anything?

The next is 13:38 and 39: [13:38] And, truly, we sent forth apostles before thee, and We appointed for them wives and offspring; and it was not given to any apostle to produce a miracle save at God’s behest. Every age has had its revelation: [13:39] God annuls or confirms whatever He wills [of His earlier messages] – for with Him is the source of all revelation.

And finally there’s 16:101: And now that We replace one message by another – since God is fully aware of what He bestows from on high, step by step – they [who deny the truth] are wont to say, “Thou but inventest it!” Nay, but most of them do not understand it!

If one reads these verses carefully, it will be clear that the abrogation spoken of is the Qur’an abrogating previous revelations (specifically, the Old and New Testaments) – or at least portions of those revelations which were time and culture bound. Just as the New Testament claims to replace the old covenant with a new and better covenant, so the Qur’an claims to replace certain parts of the former revelation with something better – or at least similar. I’m not asking you to accept the idea that the Qur’an supersedes anything in the Bible; only that this is what the Qur’an is claiming when it talks about “abrogation”. It is not claiming that later parts of the Qur’an supersede former parts.

Muhammad Asad, in his English translation of the Qur’an (to which I linked above), has this note on 2:106 (and this is certainly a “mainstream” Muslim interpretation):
* v.106 : The principle laid down in this passage – relating to the supersession of the Biblical dispensation by that of the Qur’ān – has given rise to an erroneous interpretation by many Muslim theologians. The word āyah (“message”) occurring in this context is also used to denote a “verse” of the Qur’ān (because every one of these verses contains a message). Taking this restricted meaning of the term āyah, some scholars conclude from the above passage that certain verses of the Qur’ān have been “abrogated” by God’s command before the revelation of the Qur’ān was completed. Apart from the fancifulness of this assertion – which calls to mind the image of a human author correcting, on second thought, the proofs of his manuscript, deleting one passage and replacing it with another – there does not exist a single reliable Tradition to the effect that the Prophet ever declared a verse of the Qur’ān to have been “abrogated.” At the root of the so-called “doctrine of abrogation” may lie the inability of some of the early commentators to reconcile one Qur’anic passage with another: a difficulty which was overcome by declaring that one of the verses in question had been “abrogated.” This arbitrary procedure explains also why there is no unanimity whatsoever among the upholders of the “doctrine of abrogation” as to which, and how many, Qur’ān-verses have been affected by it; and, furthermore, as to whether this alleged abrogation implies a total elimination of the verse in question from the context of the Qur’ān, or only a cancellation of the specific ordinance or statement contained in it. In short, the “doctrine of abrogation” has no basis whatever in historical fact, and must be rejected. On the other hand, the apparent difficulty in interpreting the above Qur’anic passage disappears immediately if the term āyah is understood, correctly, as “message,” and if we read this verse in conjunction with the preceding one, which states that the Jews and the Christians refuse to accept any revelation which might supersede that of the Bible: for, if read in this way, the abrogation relates to the earlier divine messages and not to any part of the Qur’ān.

The silliness of asserting that “later” verses abrogate “former” verses can be shown by a couple of cases. I recently read a commenter on someone else’s blog raising the question of abrogation concerning the statement in 2:62: VERILY, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians – all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds – shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve. Wasn’t that “abrogated” by later verses that call Jews “apes and pigs”? The silliness of that is that indeed at least one of the verses that call some Jews “apes” is a “later” verse – precisely 3 verses “later” to be exact. 😆 It is 2:65 that says: for you are well aware of those from among you who profaned the Sabbath, whereupon We said unto them, “Be as apes despicable!” But when you read that in the context of verses 63 and 64, it will be seen that the “apes” were those who turned away from God’s revelation through Moses and profaned the Sabbath. It was not all Jews, or Jews in general, who were called “apes”, but certain law breakers who stand in contrast with those in verse 62 who truly believe in God and do righteous deeds. I’m sure you’re well aware of how the Hebrew prophets themselves castigated many of their fellow Jews in very strong terms – calling them “adulterers and adulteresses”, or “harlots”, for example. Jesus said that Pharisees and Scribes he addressed had the devil as their father, and John in the Revelation refers to the “synagogue of Satan”. Paul wasn’t exactly easy going to the “Jews” in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, either.

One of the “violent” texts in the Qur’an which Islam bashers like to refer to (and which I examined in my first article on Islam) is 9:5 – And so, when the sacred months are over, slay those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God wherever you may come upon them, and take them captive, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every conceivable place. Yet if they repent, and take to prayer, and render the purifying dues, let them go their way: for, behold. God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace. This is certainly one of the “latest” texts in the Qur’an. It is believed to have been revealed in the 9th year after the emigration of the Muslims (including Muhammad, on whom be peace) from Mecca to Medina – which would place it around 631 A.D., and approximately 1 year before the Prophet’s death. Unfortunately for the “abrogationists”, there is a “later” verse which qualifies this one – 8 verses “later” that is, in verse 13: Would you, perchance, fail to fight against people who have broken their solemn pledges, and have done all that they could to drive the Apostle away, and have been first to attack you? Do you hold them in awe? Nay, it is God alone of whom you ought to stand in awe, if you are [truly] believers! So once again, in one of the very latest of the revelations of the Qur’an, the “violent” verses are qualified within the same context by a verse or verses which instruct the Muslims to fight only those who have first attacked them – in other words, in self defense. No, it’s not the pacifism of Gandhi; but it is strictly nonaggression.

Interestingly, some people want to insist that Jesus (who is blessed by God forever) himself “abrogated” his own teachings concerning “peace”; because he said in Matthew 10:34-39 that he did not come to bring peace but a sword, even turning family members against each other. And in Luke 22:35 and 36 he told the disciples to purchase swords. (See my article “Did The Prince Of Peace Come Bearing A Sword?”)*. This “interpretation” is no less (and no more) valid than the charges of “abrogation” in the Qur’an. When verses are “interpreted” non-contextually they can be made to teach whatever you want them to teach.

*[For an update on my understanding of Luke 22:35 and 36, please see my article Did Jesus Abrogate Some of His Instructions Before His Arrest?].*

The Qur’an itself, though, flatly repudiates the idea that some of its texts abrogate others. For instance, 4:82 says: Will they not, then, try to understand this Qur’ān? Had it issued from any but God, they would surely have found in it many an inner contradiction!This is one of the “later” passages, also – believed to have been given around the 4th year after the emigration to Medina – which would make it about 16 years after the first revelation. The obvious meaning is that because the Qur’an was a revelation from God, one would not be able to find any contradictions within it. Contradictions would indicate its source was human rather than divine – which is of course an accusation many then, as well as now, made. But if there are no contradictions, then obviously there is no “abrogation”.

39:23 says this about the Qur’an: God bestows from on high the best of all teachings in the shape of a divine writ fully consistent within itself, repeating each statement [of the truth] in manifold forms… Again, it is its inner consistency which is claimed as a striking indication of its divine origin.

And once again, 25:32 says this: Now they who are bent on denying the truth are wont to ask, “Why has not the Qur’ān been bestowed on him from on high in one single revelation?” [It has been revealed] in this manner so that We might strengthen thy heart thereby – for We have so arranged its component parts that they form one consistent whole. That is, the Qur’an was not given all in one sitting, in order that its complete consistency despite being delivered a little bit at a time over so many years might confirm the believers in their faith. The doctrine that one part of the Qur’an abrogates another part would completely destroy that consistency. Any “Muslim” who really believes in that “abrogation” doctrine might as well just throw away his Qur’an and abdicate his faith, because he/she has renounced the divine origin of the Qur’an according to the Qur’an itself.

Notice the condemnation the Qur’an denounces upon those who believe such a thing: Do you, then, believe in some parts of the divine writ and deny the truth of other parts? What, then, could be the reward of those among you who do such things but ignominy in the life of this world and, on the Day of Resurrection, commitment to most grievous suffering? For God is not unmindful of what you do (second half of 2:85).

So there is no truth to the idea that some portions of the Qur’an abrogate other portions. The Qur’an may nullify at least portions of former revelations, but not any portion of its own revelation.

Just a few other remarks, since this has been so long already. In the Qur’an, there is no earthly punishment for “apostasy”. There are many verses to show this, but among the clearest is 4:137 and 138: [4:137] Behold, as for those who come to believe, and then deny the truth, and again come to believe, and again deny the truth, and thereafter grow stubborn in their denial of the truth – God will not forgive them, nor will He guide them in any way.[4:138] Announce thou to such hypocrites that grievous suffering awaits them. If apostates were put to death, there would be no opportunity for repeated episodes of belief and unbelief, and especially for a person to “grow stubborn” in his unbelief. And notice that future punishment is only to be announced, not enacted; because such judgment is left to God and the Last Day.

Those who believe apostates should be punished by a human tribunal have confused apostasy with treason. Suppose, hypothetically speaking, that the USA were really a “Christian nation” as many evangelical Christians suppose. If I renounced Christianity and embraced Islam, that in itself would not constitute “treason” against the “Christian” USA. Apostasy, yes; treason, no. However, if I not only embraced Islam, but allied with Islamic enemies of the USA either by financially supporting their attacks on the USA, or actually taking part with them in those attacks, I would obviously be guilty of treason. Some Muslims, particularly in the past but still in the present to some degree, have failed to make the distinction between the two. But the Qur’an itself obviously does, as the above quoted verses from Sura 4 plainly show. The prevailing current understanding in mainstream Islam is that there is no earthly punishment for apostasy.

The assertion that the Qur’an is meant to be understood strictly literally is simply falsehood. I suspect it is intentionally and maliciously stated thus in order to be able to “prove” the absurdity or viciousness of the Muslim religion; but perhaps it’s just simply ignorance. 3:7 makes this express statement concerning the contents of the Qur’an: He it is who has bestowed upon thee from on high this divine writ, containing messages that are clear in and by themselves – and these are the essence of the divine writ – as well as others that are allegorical. Now those whose hearts are given to swerving from the truth go after that part of the divine writ which has been expressed in allegory, seeking out [what is bound to create] confusion, and seeking [to arrive at] its final meaning [in an arbitrary manner]; but none save God knows its final meaning. Hence, those who are deeply rooted in knowledge say: “We believe in it; the whole [of the divine writ] is from our Sustainer – albeit none takes this to heart save those who are endowed with insight. This is considered by Muslim scholars to be a major key to understanding the Qur’an. If you got your hands on a printed edition of Muhammad Asad’s translation, you would find that he has several pages devoted to the use of allegory and metaphor in the Qur’an (in Appendix 1). His footnotes (which are contained in the online edition I linked to) also contain many illustrations of the figures of speech and metaphors used in this delightful book.

I don’t think I can express strongly enough the vileness of the reprehensible slanders contained in that video.

As I stated earlier, I’ll give you links to some articles for other things contained in the video. For Sharia, you can find excellent (at least introductory) discussions here and here. For Taqiyya (“lying”), there is a relatively short article here; and a very long, but also very thorough refutation of the accusation here.

[Update, 9/30/10: I’ve just come across another excellent article on “Shariah Compliance” by Dr. Robert D. Crane. It’s not necessarily “easy reading”, but is very helpful in understanding what Shariah really is.]

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Responses

  1. This article is one of your best pieces yet Mr. Parker. There is so much misinformation on the internet that it’s sometimes natural to be bewildered by the sheer number and nature of the ‘attacks’ against the Qur’an.

    Going back to the original textual sources and carefully understanding the context (like you’ve done here) is probably the best step one can take towards exposing all of those agenda-driven arguments out there.

    In relation to the concept of abrogation, I myself used to wonder sometimes why God’s Holy Book would need to be ‘amended’ from time to time. It’s quite clear now that such a concept does NOT apply when dealing with the Qur’an’s contents. It’s a misconception that is unfortunately still prevalent amongst many and this article does a good job in clearing it up! Thank you! 🙂

  2. It is wonderful to come across this post, after reading so much rubbish from Islam bashers.

    One thing that I wanted to ask, are you aware that there are a few verses that are abrogated within the Qur’an, for example the 3 verses about the stages of the prohibition of drinking alcohol?

    • Hello, starmomi; peace and blessing to you. Thank you for your comment. In the earliest of my blogs on Islam I mentioned that I had begun an “investigation” of Islam as a result of reading one of those Islam bashing e-mails. I quickly found that the horrible accusations against it were false, and can be easily disproved.

      Since I have come to the conclusion that any ‘abrogation’ in the Qur’an invalidates it as a message from the One God, I took some time this morning to examine verses related to drinking of intoxicating beverages. I have to say, with no disrespect for those commentators who have seen an instance of ‘abrogation’ here, that there does not appear to me to be any such thing in those verses. 🙂 Although the most explicit prohibition of intoxicating beverages came in 5:90 and 91 – revealed in the 10th year after the emigration to Medina and just a short while before the death of the Prophet (PBUH) – the other verses all show disapproval of such drinks, never acceptance of them.

      The first of the verses related to this subject was a Meccan revelation: 16:67. “And [We grant you nourishment] from the fruit of date-palms and vines: from it you derive intoxicants as well as wholesome sustenance – in this, behold, there is a message indeed for people who use their reason!” That is Muhammad Asad’s rendering – and he is my primary source for English renderings of the Qur’an (I don’t read Arabic at all). If this rendering is correct, then there is even here an obvious contrast between intoxicants and wholesome food and drink. Thus there is an implied disapproval of intoxicants, although not an explicit prohibition. However, it appears that the translators are divided on how the Arabic word sakar (“intoxicants”) should be rendered. Abdel Haleem, for instance, renders it “sweet juices” and comments that the word can refer to any of the liquids derived from the fruit of the vine: wine, juice, or vinegar. He believes here that the context makes it clear that it is the wholesome drink from the vine that is referred to, rather than the fermented variety. Yusuf Ali renders the verse this way: “And from the fruit of the date-palm and the vine, ye get out wholesome drink and food: behold, in this also is a sign for those who are wise.” So this verse may not have anything at all to say directly about intoxicating drinks.

      The next verse in order of revelation is 2:219 (revealed abut the second year after the emigration) – “THEY WILL ASK thee about intoxicants and games of chance. Say: ‘In both there is great evil as well as some benefit for man; but the evil which they cause is greater than the benefit which they bring.’ ” Here there is obvious disapproval, although it is acknowledged that there is some good in them, such as medicinal use. This is an example of where the last part of 5:3 applies (“As for him, however, who is driven [to what is forbidden] by dire necessity and not by an inclination to sinning – behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace”): while one should avoid intoxicating beverages because of the “much sin” therein, making use of them in situations of necessity (when one is sick and such things are needed as medicine) is acceptable and will not be “held against” anyone. The prohibition in 5:90 and 91 would not abrogate this concession.

      The next verse in order of revelation, about the fourth year after emigration, is 4:43 – “O YOU who have attained to faith! Do not attempt to pray while you are in a state of drunkenness, [but wait] until you know what you are saying”. Here again, there is obvious disapproval of intoxication; one should not even attempt the prayers (“Salat”) if he is inebriated and not fully aware of what he’s saying. Muhammad’s (PBUH) hearers who used their reason should be easily able to conclude that if one can’t pray while drunk, then God really doesn’t like intoxication at any time. Muhammad Asad’s note on this verse is very appropriate: “…As regards the prohibition of attempting to pray ‘while in a state of drunkenness,’ some of the commentators assume that this ordinance represented the first stage of the total prohibition of intoxicants, and has been, consequently, ‘abrogated’ by the promulgation of the law of total abstinence from all intoxicants (5:90). However, quite apart from the fact that the doctrine of ‘abrogation’ is entirely untenable (see sūrah 2, note 87 [verse 106]), there is no warrant whatever for regarding the above verse as a ‘first step’ which has become redundant, as it were, after total prohibition was ordained. It is, of course, true that the Qur’ān forbids the use of intoxicants at all times, and not merely at the time of prayer; but since ‘man has been created weak’ (4:28), his lapse from the way of virtue is always a possibility: and it is to prevent him from adding the sin of praying while in a state of drunkenness to the sin of using intoxicants as such that the above verse was promulgated. Moreover, the expression ‘while you are in a state of drunkenness (sukārā)’ does not apply exclusively to alcoholic intoxication, since the term sukr, in its wider connotation, signifies any state of mental disequilibrium which prevents man from making full use of his intellectual faculties: that is to say, it can apply also to a temporary clouding of the intellect by drugs or giddiness or passion, as well as to the state metaphorically described as ‘drunk with sleep’ – in brief, to any condition in which normal judgment is confused or suspended. And because the Qur’ān insists throughout on consciousness as an indispensable element in every act of worship, prayer is permitted only when man is in full possession of his mental faculties and ‘knows what he is saying.’ ”

      Nothing in this verse approves or permits intoxication at any time; but it forbids doing “Salat” prayers while intoxicated, thus by implication disapproving it at other times also.

      Then comes the final statement about intoxicating drinks (5:90 and 91) in the tenth year after the emigration: “O YOU who have attained to faith! Intoxicants, and games of chance, and idolatrous practices, and the divining of the future are but a loathsome evil of Satan’s doing: shun it, then, so that you might attain to a happy state! By means of intoxicants and games of chance Satan seeks only to sow enmity and hatred among you, and to turn you away from the remembrance of God and from prayer. Will you not, then, desist?” Here, then, intoxicants are explicitly prohibited; but this does not “abrogate” the previous passages disapproving and discouraging the practice.

      While it’s possible the “argument” is merely about how one defines “abrogation”, to my mind the explicit prohibition in 5:90 could only be considered “abrogation” if previous verses had explicitly approved or permitted intoxicants. If God had said at one point “drinking of intoxicating beverages is completely permissible”, and then later said “I’ve changed my mind; I don’t want you doing that any more”, then that would obviously be “abrogation”. Or if God had said at one time “it’s allowed”; then at a later time said “it’s okay except when you’re going to be praying”; and then again said “it’s no longer allowed at any time”; then that would be a 3-stage process of abrogation. Such is not the case however. It’s just that prohibition was implied in earlier statements, and made explicit in Sura 5.

      That’s how it appears to me, anyhow. God knows best.

  3. That makes sense to me, thank you for that detailed explanation! I guess it is not abrogation as such, though those verses are included in the chapter on abrogation in “Ulum al Qur’an” by Ahmad von Denffer, due to the 3 stage revelation of the complete prohibition of alcohol. But as you say, the first 2 verses never approve of it at all. And God knows best.

    Just as an aside, have you read Muhammad Asad’s “Journey to Mecca”?

    • I have to try to be careful in what I say, as I don’t want to be disrespectful to those who have arrived at conclusions different from mine. A number of very fine people have felt “abrogation” is a necessary conclusion with regard to certain Qur’anic teachings. I personally disagree, and think that such a conclusion actually is detrimental to a claim of Divine revelation for the Qur’an.

      Besides the books I’ve already accumulated over the years while I was working, I’m pretty much limited to what I can find online for financial reasons – and I’ve done a lot of reading from that source. Since you’ve been kind enough to suggest the book “Journey to Mecca”, I’ll see if I can find it in the Public Library – I have found a couple of other books on Islam there. I somewhat doubt I’ll be able to find anything by Muhammad Asad, but it’s certainly worth a try. Thank you for the suggestion. (Obviously, the answer to your question is that I have not yet read the book.)

      Peace and blessing to you.

  4. I think your readers very much appreciate your respectful writing, thank you.

    I made a mistake with the title, it’s actually “Road to Mecca”, sorry! I wouldn’t call it essential reading, but it is a beautifully written autobiography of Asad’s journey to Islam.
    Another aside, have you heard of the book depository? they are the cheapest place to purchase books online, with free shipping worldwide, and they have a surprisingly good selection of books on Islamic spirituality (my main interest), even books by Ghazali.
    http://www.bookdepository.com

    wassalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakaatuhu

    • Starmomi – Thanks for the title correction, and the link to “the book depository”. I checked to see if I could find the book in the Public Library; but apparently there is nothing by Muhammad Asad anywhere in the system to which my local library is connected (for inter-library loans). So I suppose I’ll have to buy it if I wish to read it. I compared “the book depository” with amazon.com and found it’s a little cheaper at amazon. However I doubt I’ll be buying it right now.

  5. No problem. I’m from Australia, so the shipping costs make buying from Amazon prohibitive, hence my plug for the book depository.

    Peace.

  6. Salam again!

    I was wondering how you have found the book? I am going to get my copy down and have another read I think.

    • I finished the book, and my reaction to it is mixed. I was intrigued with the comments about Islam and what he found so attractive in it. The descriptions of the generosity and friendliness of the Arab/Muslim people was heartwarming. The contrast of Muslim spirituality with “Western” materialism was also very instructive. While reading those portions of the book, I found it hard to put down.

      Other portions of the book, though, found me wanting to skip through them (though I didn’t). I love music, especially of the “classical” variety (Vivaldi, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, etc.), and frequently find myself in a state of ecstasy while listening to it. But Muhammad Asad’s attempts to describe Arabic music were meaningless to me, and just made me drowsy trying to read through them. Perhaps if I had been actually listening to the music rather than reading his descriptions, it would have been different.

      The “travelogue” portions of the book left me with a mixed reaction. It was geographically educational, as I kept on my computer screen a Yahoo map of the countries he was talking about. However, as with the descriptions of music, a lot of the descriptions of the land and culture were simply meaningless to me and left me feeling drowsy. I can’t keep up with the foreign-to-me names of places and people – shucks, I can’t even pronounce them frequently – and my brain goes into overload trying to remember them. 😆 Then my eyes start getting heavy and my head starts nodding.

      Other portions left me just plain discouraged. I have read through the Qur’an once, and am now doing so again (sometimes reading through Suras 2 or 3 times in order to imprint them on my mind). While I can’t give references off hand, I definitely remember the exhortations to avoid schisms and maintain unity in the cause of God. Let there be only “Islam”, not “brand A” Islam versus “brand B” Islam versus “brand C” Islam. And Muslims should never fight with each other. I, of course, was already familiar with the fact that Muslims have failed miserably in following those Qur’anic instructions – Sunni versus Shiite, Progressives versus Moderates versus Fundamentalists (like “Wahabbis”). I suppose human nature is such that those divisions are almost impossible to avoid. (Christianity certainly cannot claim any advantage here, of course). But some of the descriptions in “Road to Mecca” were extremely discouraging. Muslims actually fighting and killing each other over religious and political differences is very depressing. King Ibn Saud’s violent overthrow of the ruling power (which had itself no doubt come into power through violence) in what was obviously an act of aggression (at least as Muhammad Asad described it) – and killing his defeated and helpless “adversary” without qualm – was completely “beyond the pale”, and certainly very un-Islamic so far as I can tell. From Muhammad’s descriptions, it was just wounded personal and family pride that led Ibn Saud to that violence. Yet Muhammad Asad apparently never once reproved his friend Ibn Saud for that aggressive violence – and in fact seemed to approve of it.

      My reading of the Qur’an indicates that the only violent Jihad which is acceptable in Islam is defensive warfare. I have not yet been able to understand how the military conquests of the “Rightly Guided Caliphs” and those who followed them can be considered legitimate – but I don’t know enough history to know whether or not those Muslim armies were actually just defending themselves from aggressive attacks by the Byzantines and others. Perhaps they were. But the inter-Muslim warfare described in “Road to Mecca” appeared to me to be absolutely indefensible.

      Still, my overall impression of the book was positive; and I’ll probably reread it after a few weeks and see if any of my initial negative reactions change.


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