Today's Reminder

June 10, 2023 | Dhuʻl-Qiʻdah 21, 1444

Living The Quran

Mother of Books
Al-e-Imran (The House of Imran) - Chapter 3: Verse 84

"We believe in God, and in that which has been revealed to us, which is that which was revealed to Abraham and Ismail and Jacob and the tribes [of Israel], as well as that which the Lord revealed to Moses and to Jesus and to all the other Prophets. We make no distinction between any of them; we submit ourselves to God."

The Quran, as a holy and revealed scripture, repeatedly reminds Muslims that what they are hearing is not a new message but the "confirmation of previous scriptures" (12:111). In fact, the Quran proposes the unprecedented notion that all revealed scriptures are derived from a single concealed book in heaven called the Umm al-Kitab, or "Mother of Books" (13:39). That means that as far as Muhammad understood, the Torah, the Gospels, and the Quran must be read as a single, cohesive narrative about humanity's relationship to God, in which the prophetic consciousness of one prophet is passed spiritually to the next: from Adam to Muhammad.

Of course, Muslims believe that the Quran is the final revelation in this sequence of scriptures, just as they believe Muhammad to be "the Seal of the Prophets." But the Quran never claims to annul the previous scriptures, only to complete them. And while the notion of one scripture giving authenticity to others is, to say the least, a remarkable event in the history of religions, the concept of the Umm al-Kitab may indicate an even more profound principle.

As the Quran suggests over and over again, and as the Constitution of Medina explicitly affirms, Muhammad may have understood the concept of the Umm al-Kitab to mean not only that the Jews, Christians, and Muslims shared a single divine scripture but also that they constituted a single divine Ummah. As far as Muhammad was concerned, the Jews and the Christians were "People of the Book" (ahl al-Kitab), spiritual cousins who, as opposed to the pagans and polytheists of Arabia, worshipped the same God, read the same scriptures, and shared the same moral values as his Muslim community.

Although each faith comprised its own distinct religious community (its own individual Ummah), together they formed one united Ummah, an extraordinary idea that Mohammed Bamyeh calls "monotheistic pluralism."

It is no coincidence that just as they reversed many of Muhammad's social reforms aimed at empowering women, the Muslim scriptural and legal scholars of the following centuries rejected the notion that Jews and Christians were part of the Ummah, and instead designated both groups as unbelievers. These scholars reinterpreted the Revelation to declare that the Quran had superseded, rather than supplemented, the Torah and the Gospels, and called on Muslims to distinguish themselves from the People of the Book. This was largely an attempt to differentiate the nascent religion of Islam from other communities so it could establish its own religious independence, much as the early Christians gradually dissociated themselves from the Jewish practices and rituals that had given birth to their movement by demonizing the Jews as the killers of Jesus.

Nevertheless, the actions of these scriptural scholars were in direct defiance of Muhammad's example and the teachings of the Quran. For even though Muhammad recognized the irreconcilable differences that existed among the Peoples of the Book, he never called for a partitioning of the faiths. On the contrary, to those Jews who say "the Christians are wrong!" and to those Christians who say "the Jews are wrong!" (2:113), and to both groups who claim that "no one will go to heaven except the Jews and Christians" (2:111), Muhammad offered a compromise. "Let us come to an agreement on the things we hold in common," the Quran suggests: "that we worship none but God; that we make none God's equal; and that we take no other as lord except God. (3:64). It is a tragedy that after fifteen hundred years, this simple compromise has yet to overcome the sometimes petty yet often binding ideological differences between the three faiths of Abraham.

Compiled From:
"No god But God" - Reza Aslan, pp. 99-104

From Issue: 906 [Read original issue]

Understanding The Prophet's Life

Rich Rewards

The Prophet (peace be upon him) encourages kindness to others in every way. He shows us that such kindness is always richly rewarded by God. Whatever we do in this life affects our standing on that Day. Hence, we should always seek and do what improves our position and refrain from what is likely to have a negative effect.

Al-Bara ibn Azib reports that the Prophet said: "Whoever lends another something to use, or guides another down a lane - or he said a path - will have a reward similar to that of freeing a slave". [Bukhari]

Sometimes the Prophet tells us that God promises a very rich reward for an action that does not appear, in our estimation, to deserve such treatment. This is not for us to question, because God rewards a good action with at least ten times its value. He may increase that reward up to 700 times as much, and even more, if He so wishes. Besides, when the action is likely to cement social relations within the Muslim community, then God rewards it very richly. Hence we need not be surprised at the reward promised in this hadith.

The rich reward promised is for lending something to be returned after use, but the hadith phraseology refers mostly to a cow, a she-camel, a sheep, etc. or to a useful article. Such animals used to be given to a family to use for a while, making use of their milk, or for riding in the case of a camel or a horse, and for them to return after a while. Thus the benefit given by such an offer is stretched over a period of time. Hence, it is so richly rewarded. On the other hand, a person who shows the way to someone in unfamiliar surroundings gives badly needed assistance. Hence, it deserves a rich reward.

Compiled From:
"Al-Adab al-Mufrad with Full Commentary: A Perfect Code of Manners and Morality" - Adil Salahi

From Issue: 1028 [Read original issue]


Sanctity of The State

Many have advocated the view that since the state in Islam applies the shariah, its rulings must be obeyed in all religious matters. This is an erroneous view simply because Islam does not endow the state with sanctity of any kind. The State in Islam is civilian in character; the head of state is elected by the people. He is not immune to error and he is accountable for his conduct like anyone else. In the event of crime or blatant violation of the trust of office, he may be sued and subjected to the authority of the courts without any claim to privileged treatment. “It is the greatest aberration (akbar al-khata)”, in al-Qaradawi’s phrase, “for the state or its supporters to think that it has a monopoly over legitimacy and truth, or to think that anyone who opposes them is necessarily wrong.” We listen to everyone who makes a contribution and we are entitled to decide for ourselves as to whose version is convincing and justified.

When the Mutazilite rationalists became prominent under the Abbasid caliphs, al-Mamun, al-Mutasim and al-Wathiq in the mid-ninth century, the state tried to compel the people to embrace the Mutazilite doctrines over whether the Quran was the created or uncreated speech of God. This led to what is known in Islamic history as the Mihnah (‘inquisition’) that entailed persecution of many leading scholars, including the Imam Ahmad b. H?anbal (d. 869). The Imam resisted intense pressure due to his belief that the state had no authority to impose its views on anyone, let alone resorting to coercive action over speculative issues. Islamic history has recorded this as a violation of the freedom of expression that everyone must enjoy.

Compiled From:
"Diversity and Pluralism" - Mohammad Hashim Kamali, pp. 40-42

From Issue: 874 [Read original issue]