Sunday, June 28, 2009

Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 3 of 7

Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 1 of 7
Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 2 of 7


Despite these seemingly obvious verses within the Qur’an which encourage warfare and fighting in the name of Allah, many modern day Muslims object. Critics of radical Islam often say these verses are taken out of context and misapplied by the vehement pseudo Muslims of today. Liberal and moderate Muslims speak of Islam as a religion of peace which in no way condones violence for the sake of Allah. What critics often forget, and what many Muslims are unfamiliar with, is the Islamic doctrine known as the law of abrogation. Muslim authorities state that “certain passages of the Qur’an are annulled (Mansukh) by verses revealed chronologically later, known as Nasikh verses.”(1) In other words, the revelations Muhammad received later in his life take precedence and may cancel out verses revealed earlier. The Qur’an teaches this principle in a number of passages. Sura 2:106 states, “None of our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that Allah hath power over all things?” Sura 16:101 reads, “We substitute one revelation for another—and Allah knows best.” These verses indicate a type of progressive revelation with which Allah is able to conveniently substitute and change previous revelations for newer ones. The law of abrogation is an inexact science and the number of abrogated verses within the Qur’an has been estimated to be anywhere from five to 500.(2) It seems odd that revelation from God would need to be changed and updated within a 22 year time span and yet this is exactly what we would expect if Muhammad and his followers were simply making things up as they went along.

The law of abrogation is not only found within the Qur’an but is spoken of by Ibn Ishaq in his biography of Muhammad, the Sirat Rasul Allah. As mentioned earlier, Allah revealed Sura 8 to Muhammad after his victory at the battle of Badr. Ibn Ishaq provides some commentary on the circumstances surrounding this particular revelation. We are told in the biography that Allah speaks to Muhammad saying, “O prophet, God is sufficient for thee and the believers who follow thee. O prophet, exhort the believers to fight. If there are twenty steadfast ones among you they will overcome two hundred, and if there are a hundred of you they will overcome a thousand unbelievers for they are a senseless people.”(3) This revelation contained within the biography corresponds with Sura 8:65. Muhammad here is told to encourage the Muslims to fight because they will be able to overcome great odds. Twenty Muslims will be able to defeat two-hundred unbelievers in battle and one-hundred Muslims will be able to defeat one-thousand. Ibn Ishaq then provides us with some interesting information regarding the response of the followers of Muhammad. We are told that “when this verse came down it came as a shock to the Muslims who took it hard that twenty should have to fight two hundred, and a hundred fight a thousand.”(4) It appears the Muslims did not really like these odds and became discouraged that they should be commanded to fight in light of such overwhelming numbers. How does Muhammad respond to this? What we do not find the prophet saying is, “Be of good cheer, Allah is all-powerful, most wise!” Instead, Ibn Ishaq tells us the following: “So God relieved them and cancelled the verse with another saying: ‘Now has God relieved you and He knows that there is weakness amongst you, so if there are a hundred steadfast they shall overcome two hundred, and if there are a thousand of you they shall overcome two thousand by God’s permission, for God is with the steadfast.”(5) In the Qur’an this verse is found in Sura 8:66, immediately after the first verse revealed. In this account we see that Muhammad speaks a verse which is not accepted well by the people and so Allah immediately calls upon the law of abrogation because apparently the people knew better than Allah. The first verse revealed is immediately canceled out by the second and yet both verses still appear in the Qur’an, one right after the other. Both the Qur’an and the biography of Muhammad testify to the fact that the law of abrogation was part of Islamic theology from the very outset.

Why is all of this important? The law of abrogation is highly significant in understanding the role of violence in the life of Muhammad and the religion of Islam because verses in the Qur’an encouraging warfare were revealed later in the prophetic career of Muhammad, abrogating the earlier verses encouraging tolerance and peace. Verses such as Sura 2:256 which reads, “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error,” was revealed in the early part of Muhammad’s preaching while in Mecca. Remember that Islam is a tale of two cities: Mecca and Medina. During the first twelve years of Muhammad’s prophetic career the revelations he received tended to advocate an attitude of acceptance and peace. It was not until the later Medinian period of his life that Muhammad’s preaching of violence and Jihad came to full fruition in verses such as Sura 9:5. What does all this mean? It means that when we take Islam seriously and apply the law of abrogation consistently, as early orthodox Muslims did, we find absolutely no grounding to say that Islam is a religion of peace. It is more appropriate to say that Muhammad advocated a religion of peace established through war. Once everyone converts to Islam, agrees to pay the Jizya tax, or is killed by the sword, then peace will reign. The Dictionary of Islam states, “When an infidel’s country is conquered by a Muslim ruler, its inhabitants are offered three alternatives: 1) the reception of Islam, in which case the conquered became enfranchised citizens of the Muslim state, 2) the payment of the Jizya tax, by which unbelievers obtained “protection” and became Dhimmis,(6) provided they were not idolaters, and 3) death by the sword to those who would not pay the Jizya tax.”(7) In light of the law of abrogation it is simply intellectually dishonest to say that Islam in its truest form was anything other than violent and oppressive.

(1) Lingel, Course Pack.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibn Ishaq, 326.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Ibid.

(6) Dhimmis are members of a protected community, especially referring to Jews and Christians who live under Muslim rule. The right to practice their own religion was guaranteed by their payment of a special poll tax, the jizya (Rippin, Andrew, Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, 3rd ed., 313).

(7) As quoted in the Christian Apologetics to Islam Course Pack, Lingel.

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