May 5, 2014 By Interactive scholars

Despotism or Pluralism: Questions on Islam

islamIn India, there are two theories on the expansion of Islam. Theory number one: It spread as part of the expansion of empire. This is a sugarcoated argument explaining the hackneyed sword theory on the expansion of the religion. Theory number two: Islam spread through Sufis and merchants who travelled far and wide effusing mercy, kindness and poverty. So it can be very briefly concluded: Islam is embedded in the empire while Islam is simultaneously an efflorescence of pietistic and moral convictions and values. This is true of all religions in the world.

Has there been an overemphasis on the former in recent times? Are Muslims becoming increasingly so skeptical of others that they collapse into themselves, protecting their territory from others? Is the mediaeval distinction between the land of Islam (Daul Islam) and the land of war (darul harb) still in force?
I was advised by a conservative colleague of mine not to repeat, after I have entered a mosque. A more moderate friend emailed: ‘You can enter the mosque; but not the mosques in Mecca and Madina.’
I can’t accept both the arguments. 

One of the fundamental motifs in the Quran is the existence of commonality as against divisiveness, which the oft-quoted verse 49: 13 underlines:  O men! Behold, we have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware. No doubt, Islam envisages a society based solely on god consciousness, which the mystical tradition that the questioner introduced has propagated and with it won many admirers over to the Message to Prophet Muhammad (peace of god be upon him)

There are many other verses which attack the divisiveness more clearly:

“They say: None shall enter the Garden except Jews (as the Jews say) and Christians (as the Christians say)” (2.:111); “They say. Become Jews or Christians, if you want guidance; say, Guidance is God’s guidance [not of Jews or Christians]” (2.:135; also 2.:120; 5:18).

Indeed, Islam emerged, as the above verses testify, as a response to the exclusivist claims of Christians and Jews who laid proprietary claims on God.  Given that the Quran does support the Christians and the Jews who not only don’t question the Prophethood of Prophet Muhammad but recognize him (Those to whom We have [already] given the Book, know it as they know their own sons—6:20)., linking them to the Abrahamic stream of Revelation and that the opposition to Prophet’s message stemmed from nationalistic  (that the Prophet did not come from among the Jews and Christians) and political reasons, we have ample reasons to conclude that the Quran emphasizes of the message of universal guidance beyond political and tribal exclusiveness. We don’t think, nor do we have ample evidences in the text to prove, that the God will selectively promote Muslim exclusivists. It is in the same spirit that the God speaks of the sanctity of all places of worship: ‘And were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned. And Allah will surely support those who support Him. Indeed, Allah is Powerful and Exalted in Might.’ (22:40)

In the history of Islam, there is not a single evidence of Muslims’ destroying the Chruches, synagogues and Temples where worship took place. We have the tradition of Prophet Muhammad welcoming the delegation of Najaran and giving them space to pray in his mosque (Ibn Ishaq) and of Umar having ordered the demolition of a mosque in Damascus that had been illegally constructed by forcibly expropriating the house of a Jew.
It is true that Prophet Muhammad took strong actions against some Jewish tribes, including the controversial massacre of Banu Qurayza, for political reasons. All scholars, including the orientalists, agree upon the rationale for the actions: that they violated the treaty and helped the Meccan cavalry against the Prophet. They went to the extent of plotting murder against him. In this issue of Islam Interactive, we are carrying the speech of Ali Ammar Naqshawani on the Banu Qurayza incident, which will help you understand the context of the intra-tribal conflicts in the era of the Prophet. These incidents that are specific in character don’t outweigh the pluralistic motif in the Quran, nor can they be taken as normative samples.
We believe that the practice of non-Muslims not being allowed/being frowned upon inside mosques, and even in the mosques of Mecca and Medina, emerged out the misinterpretation of a Quranic verse and the misreading of some traditions that the Prophet is said to have enunciated.
Critics as well as triumphalist Wahhabi groups cite the verse 9:28 to explain that non-Muslims are prevented from Ka’aba or for any mosques that matter. The verse says: O believers, polytheists are indeed pollution, so let them not approach the Sacred Mosque beyond this year. That polytheists are the Meccans and that this verse is not applicable to all non-Muslims en masse is borne out by the fact that Jews and Christians are not listed as the addressees of the verse. This verse and indeed the very 9th chapter of the Quran was revealed in the context of advising Muslims to wage defensive wars against the persecution of polytheists. How can one take this verse as normatively suggesting another prosecution?

Prophet Muhammad is said to have made a declaration when he was ill that the Jews and Christians should be expelled from the Arabian Peninsula (Jazeerat al Arab). In another statement reported by Ibn Abbas: He asked to expel all pagans from the Arabian Peninsula.

Considering that Arabian Peninsula means Mecca and Medina, all apologetic scholars, including Abul A’ala Mawdoodi, have agreed the veracity of these traditions and said that all faiths need delimited geographical spaces which other faiths should respect by not encroaching. Vatican is a case in point. Just as Jazeerat al Arab does not allow non-Muslim settlements and places of worship, Vatican does not allow non-Christian settlements and payer houses in its jurisdiction. Religious fraternity should exist out of the respect expressed towards the delimited territory of other faiths. Convincing though this argument seems to uncritical observers, it rests upon the assumption that the above traditions of the Prophet are historically true and normatively adoptable. However, there is a different stance on the traditions.

These traditions came to be adopted for the normative legislation during the Mamluk era, when scholars like al-Tabari and Ibn Taymiyya quoted them widely to instruct rulers to take normative stance. “In the Mamluk Empire, there was an increasing call for the isolation of dhimmis. Several scholars cited an interpretation of relevant hadith material ascribed to the 3rd-4th/9th-10th century historian and jurist al Tabari.” (A Fragment from an Unknown Work by Al-Ṭabarī on the Tradition ‘Expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula (And the Lands of Islam). Al Tabari interpreted the word Jazeerat al Arab to mean any land where Islam came to be triumphant; hence, the lands of Islam.

However, al Tabari himself said about the Tradition that there is some speculation concerning its isnads (transmission of narrators). These traditions were not even cited by Nuruddin al Bakri who took the stand that Jews and Christians should be expelled from the Arabian Peninsula.

One of the critics of Tabari was Tajuddin al Subki, author of the Mu`id al-Ni`am wa Mubid al-Niqam. Subki said that al Tabari misinterpreted traditions by making it too inclusive (not exclusive of hijaz) and commenting that the rights of non-Muslims to their personal property should be strictly respected at all costs (he foresaw that Tabari’s ruling can be adopted in such a way that non-Muslims’ property might be misappropriated in future)
Though al Subki himself is of the opinion that Jews and Christians should be expelled from Jazeerat al Arab, he confesses to have seen ‘so much of the dhimmis’ high status and their usurpation of authority that he inclined to accept the opinion of al Tabari.

In fact, this ruling was primarily quoted by Mamluk scholars and seems to be unknown except through these sources. By al-Tabari’s time, several Christians and Jews had become noticeably influential in government or finance. It is not surprising therefore that we find a statement which reacts to this by indicating the permissibility and even desirability or requirement of exiling Jews and Christians from such places.
We don’t think this ruling has any relevance today
We don’t think that xenophobia is a phenomenon noticeable only among Muslims. We have seen that xenophobia among Muslims is not proven in their texts and traditions. The problems of Muslims are increasingly spotted and cited in the context of Islamophobia, which, along with the still-continuing colonialism, must have rendered a majority of Muslims quite defensive who go back to a triumphant era of the past for supremacy.  Of course, prayer halls should be opened out to others and a modicum of tolerance at least demands the tolerance of others’ sacred places in our soil. But in a democracy like India, are we concerned about it after the demolition of Babari Masjid? Or, Are Muslims only the culprits?

Posted in: Q&A