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                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Church and State in Islam

Posted by Sen on November 21, 2008

openquranIn a discussion, I was asked: “You state that separation of church and state is principle in Islam. Could you explain that a bit more?

My starting point has been some verses of Baha’u’llah which will be familiar to Bahais, but I would like to look at them again, to see what they show about Baha’ullah’s thinking about the teachings of previous religions.

(1) In The Lawh-e Ashraf, in Gleanings, CII 206-7:

The one true God, exalted be His glory, hath ever regarded, and will continue to regard, the hearts of men as His own, His exclusive possession. All else, whether pertaining to land or sea, whether riches or glory, He hath bequeathed unto the Kings and rulers of the earth. From the beginning that hath no beginning the ensign proclaiming the words “He doeth whatsoever He willeth” hath been unfurled in all its splendor before His Manifestation.

(2) In the Surah-ye Bayan, in Gleanings CXXVIII 279:

Out of the whole world He hath chosen for Himself the hearts of men – hearts which the hosts of revelation and of utterance can subdue. Thus hath it been ordained by the Fingers of Baha, upon the Tablet of God’s irrevocable decree, by the behest of Him Who is the Supreme Ordainer, the All-Knowing.

(3) And in the Kitab-e Aqdas :

82: Ye are but vassals, O kings of the earth! … Arise, and serve Him Who is the Desire of all nations, Who hath created you through a word from Him, and ordained you to be, for all time, the emblems of His sovereignty.

83: By the righteousness of God! It is not Our wish to lay hands on your kingdoms. Our mission is to seize and possess the hearts of men. Upon them the eyes of Baha are fastened. To this testifieth the Kingdom of Names, could ye but comprehend it.

And (4) in the Kitab-e Iqan paragraph 133 / page 125:

Were sovereignty to mean earthly sovereignty and worldly dominion, were it to imply the subjection and external allegiance of all the peoples and kindreds of the earth – whereby His loved ones should be exalted and be made to live in peace, and His enemies be abased and tormented – such form of sovereignty would not be true of God Himself, the Source of all dominion,

There are many more such examples, but this is sufficient to make the first point: Baha’u’llah thought that
– the essential principle of the division of sovereignty into worldly and heavenly types, and the allocation of worldly sovereignty to worldly rulers and not to religious leaders, has been God’s ruling from the beginning of time (quote 1);
– that God reserves the hearts for Godself alone (ie freedom of conscience; religion is to be taught, not imposed by the sword)(2);
– that the civil rulers have a religious mandate “for all time” to embody God’s sovereignty (3), so this is not something to be changed in the future; and
– that this division of powers, which means that religion can never exercise coercive authority, is “true of God Himself” (4) – it reflects something in the “kingdom of names.”

Baha’u’llah could not have said these things if he thought that the true message of Muhammad was the opposite, and since he knew the Quran rather well we would expect to find this teaching supported in the Quran, and in the prophetology of the Quran in relation to previous prophets. If we cannot make this at least plausible from the Quran text, we have a big problem in teaching the Bahai Faith to Muslims: it would appear then that Baha’u’llah introduced a religious innovation by separating church and state, while claiming it had always been a divine teaching. So we need to find the Quranic texts that support the separation of the worldly and religious sovereignties.

Five groups of Quranic verses are most striking,
– the verses of prophetology which we may call the warner verses,
– those relating to Muhammad’s arbitration, which I will call judgment verses,
– those referring to worldly leadership,
– the ‘authorities’ verses, and
– ‘freedom’ verses.

approachingstormWarner verses
The warner verses can be divided into those referring to previous prophets, and those referring to Muhammad himself, such as this one:

Call to remembrance, for you are only one who calls to remembrance (mudhakkirun). You are not (set) over them as a ruler (musaytirin). If anyone turns away to unbelief, God will punish him with a mighty punishment. (88:21-24)

All authorities agree in placing this in the Meccan period: Watt’s Companion to the Quran glosses it “that is, Muhammad only conveys a message and has no authority.” Sayuti, in the Tafsir al-Jalalayn only comments that this verse was revealed before the command of jihad, implying that the latter abrogates the verse above. He is presumably thinking of Surah 22 (eg verse 78), which does indeed postdate Surah 88. However the sentiment of Surah 88:21 (quoted above) is repeated in Surah 9, which is quite possibly the last Surah to be revealed, and which concludes (vv 128- 9):

There had come to you an apostle from among yourselves … but if they turn away, say ‘God is sufficient unto me, no god is there but him…’

This surah also contains extensive references to fighting, and about those who seek to evade their duty to fight. Clearly the regulations of jihad is not incompatible with the principle that Muhammad was not a ruler, for they were taught at the same time. Surah 5, which according to the traditional dating is the second-to-last Surah to be revealed, says (v. 102) “Nothing is incumbent on the apostle except preaching (al-balaagh) … ”

Muhammad Abduh‘s attempt at reconciling the problem of “You are not (set) over them as a ruler” is interesting: he says that it is only religious authority that is denied to Muhammad by such verses! (Cited in Sjadzali, Islam and Governmental System, 91) If this were true, the whole treasury of Islamic traditions that reveal Muhammad’s understanding of the Quran and his rulings on particular cases would be irrelevant, but this is not in fact Abduh’s position, nor that of any Muslim. What is happening here is that the Sunni tradition, teaching as it does the legitimacy of the first three Caliphs’ combined civil and religious authority, has had to provide explanations of the Quranic teachings, so as to emphasise Muhammad’s civil authority – even to the extent of reading “You are not (set) over them as a ruler” as a divine denial of Muhammad’s religious leadership. The plain meaning of the text is, that Muhammad is not a worldly ruler – which means that those who later claimed to exercise worldly rule as Muhammad’s successors were whistling in the wind.

The verse above (88:21) has parallels in Surah 6, also from the late Meccan period:

Say, I am not over you as a guardian (wakiilin) (66).
I [Muhammad] am not over you as a warder (hafiizan) ….(104)
We have not set you [Muhammad] over them as a warder, and you are not over them as a guardian. (107)

Similarly in Surah 4, from the early Medinan period:

We have sent you to the people as a messenger (rasulan) … whoever obeys the messenger has obeyed God, and as for those who turn away, we have not sent you as a warder over them. (79-80)

And similarly:

We know what they say: you do not have the power of enforcement (be-jabbaarin) over them. Cause them to remember, through the Quran … (50:45)

In Surah 25, from the Meccan period, God tells Muhammad:

We have only sent you as one who gives glad tidings (mubashiirun), and as a warner. Say, I do not ask your for any recompense for it, except that every person shall make a path to his Lord. (56-57)

Finally, in a Surah that must date from relatively late in the Medinan period, Muhammad is told:

O Prophet, truly we have sent you as a witness (shaahidan) and one who gives glad tidings and as a warner, and as one who calls the people (daa`iyan) to God, by His leave, and a lamp giving light. (33:45-6, see also 48:8)

The denials of authority cited above might mean only that Muhammad had no authority over those who rejected him, but in Surah 15, Muhammad is told he has been granted the verses and the Quran, and should not envy what has been granted to others (87-88). That is, others within the Muslim community might have more wealth and more authority in the tribal or city structures than the Messenger, and Muhammad must accept this situation – as Baha’u’llah accepted the authority of the Shah and Sultan, and certainly did not envy them their wealth.

Muhammad’s lack of temporal authority is underlined by God’s instruction that he should consult his companions “in the affair” (3:159). The word is al-amr, which can refer ambiguously to a command, authority, a business matter or simply to any fact or situation, so the scope of the verse is not immediately apparent. It is a Medinan verse, and refers to the battle of Uhud in which Muhammad was also the military commander. In the codex of Ibn Abbaas, representing the early Quranic text used in Medina, the verse reads “consult them in part of the affair.” It seems most likely that it refers to consulting the leaders of the various elements of the Medinan federation, in relation to military command. This is in accordance with the customary limitation of authority of the chosen military leader, the sayyid, who had to lead by persuasion.

Once we know what to look for in the Quran, ‘warner’ verses strike us on almost every page:

7:184 “He is only a clear warner (mundhiirun).”

7:188 “I am nothing but a warning, and one who brings glad tidings.”

10:108 “I am not over you as a guardian.”

11:12 “… You are only a warner, and God has all things in his charge.”

13:7 “You are only a warner.”

15:89 “And say: I am the clear warner.”

16:82 “Nothing is incumbent on you except clear preaching.”

17:54 “We have not sent you to them as a guardian.”

22:49 “Say: O men! I am only a clear warner to you.”

27:92 “And if any stray, say “Truly I am only one of the warners.”

34:28 “We have not sent you except as that which is sufficient for the people, by way of glad tidings and a warning.”

39:41 “You are not over them as a guardian.”

42:48 “If they turn away, we have not sent you as a warder over them.”

50:2 “They are astonished that a warner has come to them, from among themselves.”

79:45 “You are only a warner for those who fear it [i.e., the Hour].”

Anyone with an Arabic concordance can multiply these examples, by following the Arabic terms indicated above for the words messenger, warner, preacher, witness, summoner, one who calls to remembrance and one who brings good news, and also the terms for the roles Muhammad does not have: warder, guardian, ruler and similar. Without pretending to be exhaustive, see the verses 2:119, 11:2, 13:40, 14:52, 28:46, 29:50, 32:3, 34:46, 35:23, 37 and 42, 38:65 and 70, 41:4, 42:6, 44:12, 46:9, 51:50-1; 67:8-9 and 26.

When we put these verses together, it becomes clear that the very meaning of Muhammad’s most common title, rasuul or messenger, is “the one who warns, preaches summons and bears witness, but who does not have the function of warder, guardian or ruler, nor any power to compel.” And when we see how numerous such verses are, it begins to appear as if the distinction between prophetic and temporal authority is in fact one of the central themes of the Quran.

Similar declarations about demarcated religious authority are made concerning the Quran or Furqan, which is a warning (25:1), about all the prophets collectively (6:48, 34:34,44, 35:24, 18:56, 29:18, 36:17) who are all sent only to preach (16:35), and also about individual prophets such as Noah (71:1-2), Moses (17:105, 5:21, 5:28), Hud (46:21), Lot (54:33-36), and Jesus (5:49). The Prophet Shu’aib says ‘I am not set over you as a warder’ (11:86).

Muhammad is called “one of the warners of old” (53:56), placing him in the same line as all of these figures, whose warnings have been rejected, along with the prophets who brought them. Like Baha’u’llah after him, it appears that Muhammad too understood the demarcation of religious and temporal authority as the basic pattern of God’s dealing with humanity, and not as something particular to his own person or the exigencies of the time.

If we look at the contexts of all of these ‘warner’ passages, we can generalise about the point that is being made. The limitation of the authority of the prophets has two aspects: on the one hand, the prophets do not have any right to worldly authority over people, the power to compel them (for the people must be free to hear the warning or not), or the right to judge and punish. Nor are the prophets responsible if the people reject the message (2:272). On the other hand, God, and not the prophets, has the power to judge and punish people for their free choices, and God and not the prophet has the knowledge of the Hour of judgement. The power of the prophet is limited on two sides, in relation to the worldly powers, and in relation to God.

Giorgione_SolomonJudgement verses

It might be objected that Muhammad is excluded only from the executive function of government, but still has the legislative and judicial functions. The distinction would be anachronistic and it would be wrong as an account of Muhammad’s actions. Although Muhammad did in fact serve as an arbiter in some disputes, this was a function that existed under the customs of the time, and which could be filled by any honourable man acceptable to both parties. Where Muhammad did act as arbiter, it was not by virtue of his station as a Prophet, but by the free consent of the parties, given either at the time of the dispute, or pledged in advance under the treaty of Medina. Even in the presence of Muhammad, the parties to a dispute could and did choose some other honourable man to be the arbiter (as in the case of the Banu Qurayza), and Muhammad was obliged to obey the adjudicator in the matter like everyone else. Moreover, Muhammad could decline to serve as arbiter when he was asked:

Either you judge between them or you turn away from them down, and if you turn away from them, they cannot harm you in any way. (5:45)

It appears in fact that Muhammad is counselled not to intervene in matters between the Jews in Medina, for God then asks: “Why do they come to you for judgement, when the Torah is among them, containing the judgement of God?” (5:46)

Another verse that appears to show that Muhammad had a judicial function, at least between the believers, is 4:65:

They will not believe until they turn to you for adjudication in whatever arises among them. Then they will not find any resistance within themselves to what you have done, and they will submit entirely.

The verse is from the early Medinan period, and refers to those who say that they believe, as the context shows:

Have you not seen those who pretend to believe … they wish to go for judgement to at-Taghut, although they have been ordered to reject him, and the Satan wishes to lead them astray. (4:60)

Some have said that at-Taghut is a derogatory name for a particular arbiter, and that Satan has inspired the nominal believers to turn to this man for arbitration. But as Watt has said, the various stories about the supposed incident and arbiter differ and some are frankly fantastic. It appears to me rather that at-Taghut is used as the personal name of the devil (it can also mean ‘evil’, ‘oppression’ or an idol), and ‘the Satan’ is used as a characterisation of the same devil. That is, the nominal believers turn to the devil, not Muhammad, for judgment, and since the devil does not literally provide legal rulings or arbitration, the meaning must be that these nominal adherents still govern their own daily conduct according to precepts taught by the devil, while they should govern them according precepts taught by Muhammad, accepting his teachings wholeheartedly. In that case, the verse does not imply that Muhammad should literally adjudicate each case specifically, or that the believers were required to turn to him and no-one else when seeking arbitration. Muhammad provides the rules, the customs and methods for daily life that replace those of at-Taghut. He may also adjudicate particular cases, but is not required to do so. This should be borne in mind when reading the previous verse (4:59), which does direct the believers to refer disputes among themselves to Muhammad (but as a good deed rather than a command).

Another early Medinan verse refers to those who say they believe in God and the Messenger:

When they are summoned to God and the His messenger, that he may judge between them (li-yahkuma baynahum), one sect among them protests. But if the right was on their side they would come to him obediently (24:48-9)

Like 4:59, this points to a duty of the believers to refer matters for arbitration to Muhammad, but only “when summoned.” This is a world removed from the judiciary as an arm of the state, ruling compulsorily over people of all religions. That verse leads on to a famous ‘authority verse’ (24:54):

Say: Obey God, and obey the messenger, but if they turn away, the only thing incumbent on him is the duty he has been charged with, and the duty you have been charged with is incumbent on you. If you obey him, you will be rightly guided. Nothing is incumbent on the messenger except clear preaching.

We can see that this duty is a moral obligation only, and that it applies to the believers in the time of Muhammad. It does indeed reveal an authority that Muhammad had in the religious community, and a duty of obedience, but it would be a considerable stretch to make this the foundation for a theory of the state.

sceptreVerses of worldly authority

Not only does the Quran say clearly that the prophets are only warners, and that Muhammad is not appointed as a ruler over men, it also speaks clearly if infrequently about temporal rulers, sometimes in the same breath as the prophets:

They [the chiefs of Israel] said to a Prophet among them, “Appoint for us a King …” Their Prophet said to them, “God has appointed Talut (Taalut) as a king for you… God grants His authority to whomever he pleases.” (2:246-247)

The reference here is to the story of the Prophet Samuel and the appointment of King Saul (Talut), which begins the institution of monarchy in Israel’s history.

Joseph (who is a prophet according to Islamic criteria) is another example of a prophet and king who are mentioned together. He served the Pharaoh, and if he sought and held authority as a ‘warder’ (hafiizun, 12:55) over the grain stocks, it was by virtue of his ability and virtue, and royal appointment: not because of his station as a Prophet. Despite Joseph’s religious status, his temporal authority is limited by the king’s laws (12:76). Joseph and the Pharoah, and Samuel and Saul, represent the ideal relationship between religion and power.

While Moses is said to have had clear authority (sultaanin mubiinin), this is at the same time as the Pharaoh had command (amr), and the people were ruled by Pharaoh (11:96-7). The use of two different terms here shows that the authority of the prophet is not the same as that of the king, and is an authority that does not compel. Sultaan is often translated as ‘warrant,’ for in the Quran it means an endorsement from God, not an actual authority over men (12:40; 7:71; 10:68).

The position of Moses as leader of the exile tribes is anomalous (and a magnified version of the position of Muhammad as leader of an exile group), because Moses like Adam functions as a leader in the absence of a state. The further history of Israel as presented in the Quran, including the verse just cited, tells us that God’s plan was fulfilled by the establishment of a state and a king. The period of wandering in which the Prophet was also the temporal leader is a suspension of that plan, prolonged by the disobedience of the Israelites which rendered them unfit to do the work of developing a civilization. Although the Quran contains these instances in which the figure of religious authority is at the same time the temporal authority, this is the product of circumstances and not a picture of the ideal society that Islam intends. David is another example combining religious and temporal authority.

David is not directly called a messenger (rasul) in the Quran, but is called ‘our servant’ (38:17), and he is included in a list of those who are rightly guided (6:84), and who have been given the Book, authority (hukm) and prophethood (nubuwat) (6:89). His ‘book,’ the psalms, is part of the Hebrew and Christian canon. So there are good reasons why he is considered a prophet in the Islamic theological tradition. In the Quran, David is granted both ‘divine gifts’ (min afzulan, 34:10) and ‘a station of successor on earth’ (khaliifatan fii al-ard, 38:26). When he did not have the latter, because Saul was king, his relationship to power resembles the ideal relationship of Joseph and the Pharaoh.

Solomon, is among the rightly guided who are granted the station of prophethood (6:84-89), and he is also granted a kingdom (mulkan, 38:35). But he appears in the Quran primarily as a figure of fable, rather than as a prophet and king. He does not seem to have been called a prophet by Baha’u’llah.

There are at least twenty other prophets mentioned by name in the Quran, and others unnamed. Their common characteristic is that they were rejected and even killed by the people, and by the rulers of the people. David (and Moses as an example of exceptional circumstances) provide us with two possible objections to the thesis that the Quran recognises the differentiation of religious and temporal authority. But if we consider the many other prophets who never had any temporal authority, there are ten times as many objections to the thesis that the Quran presents the union of religious authority and temporal power as an ideal. Considered as a whole, it is clear that the Quranic norm is the separation of religious authority and temporal power, and that the Quranic ideal is harmony between them.

The Quran also shows less ideal examples of the relationship of religion to authority, most notably in the relationships between Muhammad and the rulers of Mecca, and Moses before Pharaoh (7:103- 137). In the latter story (revealed in the late Meccan period), Moses does not seek to displace the temporal power, yet the assumption that this must be his ‘real’ aim leads to distrust in the Egyptian court, and ultimately to conflict (7:110). Similarly, at the time of the incident that caused Moses to flee to Madyan, the accusation made against him was that he sought to become a man of power (jabbaaran) in the world (28:19). It can hardly be an accident that Muhammad tells the story of Moses and Pharaoh in these terms: despite Muhammad’s own repeated statements that he is only a warner and seeks nothing from them, the leaders of Mecca treat him as a rival to power, and Muhammad suffered because of these suspicions. For Bahais, the story also reads as a type of the tragedy of the Bab and the exile and imprisonment of Baha’u’llah, and the imprisonment of Abdu’l-Baha for the same reason: those in power feared that they would use religious authority to claim worldly power. When Pharaoh decided to continue a policy of killing the male children of the Israelites, Moses said to his people, “Pray to God for help, and be patient. Truly, the earth is God’s, that he may will it to whomever He wills among His servants” (7:128). The implication of telling this story, for the oppressed believers in Mecca, was that the powers that be in the city, however unjust they might be, were not to be opposed or deposed.

An even stronger expression of this is found in Surah 3:26, from the early Medinan period: “Say, O God, Lord of Power, you grant power to whomever you will, and you take power from whomever you will.” This is traditionally said to have been revealed in reference to the pending fate of the Persian and Byzantine empires. This is not the same as the theory of the Divine right of kings. That theory gives an indefinite divine endorsement that promises the continuity of the throne: it has been applied to both the Persian throne and European royal houses (particularly the French). But in Islamic thinking the belief that God has appointed those who presently rule is coupled with an awareness that this appointment is for a time, and that God will depose one dynasty and appoint another, will remove one people from centre stage in history and raise another to succeed them. (16:133; 11:57.) As such, the concept is closer to the ‘wheel of fortune’ than ‘the divine right of kings.’

The power that passes from one to another may be used by them for good or evil, but the Quran is distinctly pessimistic about the usual pattern of history:

Thus we have created great men in every town, the wicked men of the place, that they may connive there … and when a sign comes to the them, they say, we shall not believe until we receive the like of what the messengers received … (6:122-4)

queenbishopAuthorities verses

We have seen that the Quran says that God appoints prophets, and that they have a book and an authority (6:89), and in the case of Muhammad this includes the authority to call believers to submit to his arbitration of their disputes, and also that the Quran says that it is God who awards temporal power, but not (with a few exceptions) to the prophets, and not necessarily to the good. The inescapable conclusion is that the Quran contains the concept of at least two distinct sorts of authority.

Within this framework, we can turn to the verses that deal with authority per se, the various individuals to whom it is granted, and its corollary of obedience. The most famous of these is known simply as ‘the authority verse,’ Surah 4 verse 59:

God commands you [believers] to return your trusts to the people to whom they are due, and when you arbitrate (hakam) between people, do so with justice …. O you who believe, obey God, and obey the messenger, and those entrusted with command (amr) among you. If you differ in anything, refer it to God and to the messenger, … (4:58-60)

We have not sent any messenger except to be obeyed, according to the will of God … (4:64)

They will not believe until they turn to you for adjudication in whatever arises among them….(4.65).

We have sent you to the people as a messenger (rasulan) … whoever obeys the messenger has obeyed God, and as for those who turn away, we have not sent you as a warder over them. (79-80)

When a matter of security or danger came to them, they concealed it. If only they had referred it to the messenger and those entrusted with command (amr) among them, so that the discerning among them might know it.

(In the last translation, 4:83; “concealed” is the opposite to the translations of Watt, Sale and Yusuf Ali, but see 84:23. )

Surah 4 is from Medina, about the years 625-7. As we have seen above in relation to 3:159, amr may relate specifically to the military command exercised by the leaders of the various elements of the Medinan federation, including Muhammad. This seems the most likely reading of 4:83 as well, but in 4:59 it might refer to the tribal leadership in general, bearing in mind that most of the Muslims in Medina and elsewhere who had not accompanied Muhammad from Mecca were living in their tribal structures which would impose certain obligations on them. In the authority verse itself (4:59), the dual structure of authority quite naturally creates dual duties of obedience for the believers, whereas in the specifically military situation envisioned in 4:83, no distinction need be made because Muhammad was the chief of security for the whole city, and the duty to pass on information to someone discerning applies to all the Medinans, not just to the believers. The commandment to refer differences to Muhammad in 4:59 cannot be a reference to his role as adjudicator in inter-tribal disputes under the Treaty of Medina, since the verse is addressed to believers. Thus it refers to Muhammad’s other role, as the head of a religious community.

Baha’u’llah offers a Shiah interpretation of 4:59 in Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 89-90:

“By ‘those invested with authority’ is meant primarily and more especially the Imams … Secondarily these words refer to the kings and rulers — those through the brightness of whose justice the horizons of the world are resplendent and luminous.”

The two authorities cannot be conceived sequentially, since there were kings and rulers in the days of the Imams, and there is no indication that Baha’u’llah considered them to be illegitimate.

The corollary of rightful authority is the duty of obedience:

64:12 Obey God, and obey the messenger, and if you turn back, nothing is incumbent on our messenger except clear preaching.

Similar words are repeated in several places, in the sense of a moral duty of obedience, enforced by an awareness of God’s ultimate judgement:

5:95 Obey God, and obey the messenger, and beware. If you turn back, know that what is incumbent on our messenger is clear preaching.

58.14 … stand up in the obligatory prayer, give tithes, and obey God and His messenger. God knows what you do.

64:16 Fear God, as much as you are able, and hear and obey, and give in charity for the sake of your souls …

Similar verses in relation to Muhammad are found at 3:32, 3:132, 4:64, 8:20, 8:46, 24:51, 25:56 and 27:33, and in relation to Aaron at 20:90.

The same duty of obedience is due to Jesus, who says: “… I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, so fear God and obey me” (3:50), (See also 43:63). Ibn Mascud’s codex expanded on 3:50, reading: Obey God in what has come to you of it [the Law], through the verses, and obey me in what the sign calls you to.”

There is a similar verse in relation to Noah (26:108, 110; 71:3), who adds, “I do not ask anything from you by way of recompense for this…” and “I am only one who warns clearly.” (26:109, 115). The prophet Hud says, “Fear God and obey me” and adds “I do not ask anything from you by way of recompense for this…” (26:126-7, and 131). Thamud says, “Fear God and obey me” and adds “I do not ask anything from you by way of recompense for this…” (26:144-5, and 150). Lot says, “Fear God and obey me” and adds “I do not ask anything from you by way of recompense for this…” (26:163). None of these prophets exerted any worldly leadership over their people. One would have to singularly obtuse not to get the point here: Muhammad is saying over and over and over again, that his authority, and that of all the prophets, is a moral authority not a worldly one. However we should also consider one exception:

8:1 They ask you about the spoils of war. Say: the spoils belong to God and the messenger. … Obey God and his messenger if you are believers.

The verse is from the early Medina period, following the battle of Badr and a battlefield dispute among the Muslims concerning the division of the spoils. Although the verse would seem to imply that all the spoils revert to the messenger, Muhammad actually ordered all those who had taken spoils away to return them to one pile, and then shared them out again. The authority of the prophet here is that already noted above (for instance in relation to 24:48): the authority to adjudicate between the believers in matters of dispute among them. It is not the judicial authority of a state.

emancipationFreedom verses

Finally, we should note that the authority in religion that is granted to the prophets is one that requires a voluntary submission:

2:256 There is no compulsion in religion: truth has been clearly distinguished from error …

10:99 If you Lord had willed it, everyone on earth would believe. Would you then compel the people to believe despite themselves?

11:30 I have an explanation from my Lord … do we compel you to it when you are averse to it?

Just as transcendent religion implies a project that is in this world but not of it, ethical religion is necessarily free, or it is not ethical. The state, in contrast, exists to provide society with the service of coercion, thus containing the free-loader problem and making extended societies possible. The project of the state, and the project of ethical religion, function according to fundamentally different logics, and complement each other:

He has set free the twin seas, that they meet one another. Between them is a barrier, and they pass it not. Which of the bounties of your Lord would you deny?
Quran 55:19

ocean and river

~~Sen McGlinn~~
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16 Responses to “Church and State in Islam”

  1. Matt said

    What a very interesting article. This is a subject I am keenly interested in, as I love the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his faith, but I never thought it was a good idea to make Islam the “law of the land.” I see that most Muslim countries are doing this, and I often have nothing to say except that I disagree. Now, I have some information that supplements my intuitive feeling. I read a few things here and there, but nothing as concise as this.

  2. KomaGawa said

    I wonder what has become of Matt. Indeed I am surprised no one has found this long article recently. I am embarrassed after reading this that I have said repeatedly, that the Qur’an advancement over the Bible was to raise the one to one relationship of Jesus’ teachings to the level of a just and fair state. thus I was/am fascinated by the attempts of Khomeini to establish a theocracy in Iran.

    The argument you have made here is overwhelming, and I stand along side Matt in awe of the misinterpretation of so many “Islamic” regimes both in the past and not yet born. It seems to me we are witnessing the world’s largest Ferris wheel repeating over and over, bringing its inhabitants back to the same starting place. They go up and they come back down. It will take me a long time to digest the wonder of what I have read.

    But I can already see what the glimmering question I will want to ask…It seems to me that the Qur’an leaves off on the exact definition of that “ideal” relationship between religious and secular authority. Will you say “this is what Baha’u’llah came to do.”? However I was under the impression that the Bahai structure was built upon a Qur’anic guided state to bring together all these diverse states into a form of harmony. If we don’t have that relationship defined in the Qur’an, then it has to be done, before we can move beyond/above the state.

    So if I start a discussion with a Muslim, and trot out all these references to the separate but harmonious structure rather than the unified structure, the obvious question seems to me to be one I have asked above, ” where is the relationship defined?” then I might as well be silent because if the answer is to refer to the authority of Bahai Writings, that is leading on another path the mythical Iranian Muslim has no intention of going down.

  3. Sen said

    The Qur’an and the practice of Muhammad (the Sunnah) do not speak of the state, but rather of “those in authority”, of rulers and kings, and of the ethics of government. For those who can read Arabic or French, there is Ali ‘Abd ur-Razik, Al-Islam wa usul al-hukm (‘Islam and the Fundamentals of Authority’: A study of the caliphate and government in Islam), 1925. An English translation of this is one of my retirement projects. He shows that the Islamic sources do not provide any model for the constitutional arrangement, which of course means, that they do not endorse the idea of a caliphate. He was not a popular boy when he published that, as the King of Egypt was angling to be the ruler who would re-establish the caliphate, and because he was upsetting centuries of received doctrine in Sunni Islam.

    “The state” as we understand it today, is a modern creation. It is not so long ago that people in authority all over the world, Europe included, were loyal to, or rebelling against, a dynasty and a ruler, not to “France” or “England.” If you look at the arguments about who was the legitimate ruler of England, prior to the 1066 invasion, and then at Shakespeare with his “sceptred Isle”, you can see how the concept and sentiment of “the nation” as distinct from the ruling dynasty and its birth-rights developed over those centuries.

    While the state, and the need for global governance, are new problems, Islam does offer resources for Muslims to work out a response, if they are prepared to go back to the primary sources. This means jettisoning the consensus of the faithful (‘ijma) over the centuries, not because that is not a legitimate source of doctrine (although I personally do not believe it is a source, in Islam or any other religion I know of), but on the less disputable grounds that the ‘ijma was providing answers to a different question. The Quran and the Sunnah provide the principle of the separation of church and state, and a general ethic applicable to the actors in the state, and some elements of an ethic of governance.

  4. KomaGawa said

    Well, first I admit my ignorance. My study of Islam consists of two books basically: ,Muhammad and the Course of Islam by H.M Balyuzi and my copy “The Message of the Qur’an presented in perspective” by Hashim Amir Ali, which by the way has rich introductions and concluding considerations for his 5 divisions and reorganization of the sura(h?)s (according to a chronological order) plus appendices which I have barely read. I have read the Qur”an only one time completely. However I have read the 18 suras of Al-ruh, and most of the 36 Suras of the section called Al-Huda several times, as I am again doing during this fast. I have benefited a lot from Mr Ali’s commentaries of bridging Hinduism and Islam, as well as numerous notes in his first two sections.
    I greatly appreciate your essay and the response, which seems still like an introduction to a more lengthy presentation. My nice neat organization which I had before reading your essay, is very much disassembled and somewhat scattered around me as I sit at this Japanese table on the floor. My upcoming touristy trip to Iran is fast approaching and I have to begin to put away things, and concepts until much later. When I come back I will be immersed in EFL class preparations for 1st year lovable, but decidedly not serious 19-20 yr. olds.
    Over recent years I have made a decided turn towards the prayerful aspect of the Faith, rather than its scholarship. Your essay brought attention to my hunger and the lack of communication tools I have when I engage in commenting and post-commenting on essays in the US intellectual online press. Such lack is what immediately brought me to your essay(I have previously just read your reports of the conditions of the Iranian community as fuel for my prayers,BTW it takes a lot of fuel for my effort to pierce clouds of various concerns )
    Khoda-hafez
    Thomas Asada-Grant
    PS. there are other follow-up questions I have regarding your reply, but I have written too much unnecessary things already.

  5. Stephen Kent Gray said

    Sen, there are no Hadith references in your article. A lot of Islamists base their ideas on Hadith primarily. Sunni Hadith for example are the basis for the idea of a caliphate for example.

  6. Sen said

    The traditions were composed, assembled and passed on under the patronage of rulers who had their own interests to protect, who could not find sufficient justifications for their combination of religious and temporal authority in the Quran. So the gap between the Quran and the traditions is not surprising. In the article I say:

    “… the Sunni tradition, teaching as it does the legitimacy of the first three Caliphs’ combined civil and religious authority, has had to provide explanations of the Quranic teachings, so as to emphasise Muhammad’s civil authority – even to the extent of reading “You are not (set) over them as a ruler” as a divine denial of Muhammad’s religious leadership. The plain meaning of the text is, that Muhammad is not a worldly ruler – which means that those who later claimed to exercise worldly rule as Muhammad’s successors were whistling in the wind.”

    You could substitute “the Sunni Traditions” for “the Sunni tradition” and it would still be true. I used the latter because, in addition to the collections of Traditions, there is also a tradition of Quran interpretations designed to circumvent the apparent meaning of the Quran text. The distinction between prophetic and temporal authority is one of the central themes of the Quran, but was incompatible with the authority of the Sunni Caliphs. In the same way, the virtue of poverty and the sharing of the means of livelihood is a central theme in the gospels and in the actions of the earliest church, and had to be circumvented by interpretative strategies as Christianity developed. This is the argument that is in the background in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.

  7. Stephen Kent Gray said

    Sen, I don’t know much about the history of Hadith. I do notice that the Six Books have a special place in Sunni Islam.

    Sahih Al-Bukhari صحيح البخاري
    Sahih Muslim صحيح مسلم
    Al-Sunan Al-Sughra السنن الصغرى
    Sunan Abi Dawood سنن أبي داود
    Sunan Al-Tirmidhi جامع الترمذي
    Sunan Ibn Maja سُنن ابن ماجه

    Muwatta Imam Malik 8th–9th cent.
    Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal 780–855
    Sunan Al-Darimi 868
    Shama’il Muhammadiyah
    (Shamaail Tirmidhi)
    9th century
    Sahih Ibn Khuzaymah 923
    Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥibbān 965
    Al-Mustadrak a. Al-Ṣaḥīḥaīn 11th century
    Al-Mawdū’āt Al-Kubrā 1128–1217
    Rīaḍ As-Ṣāliḥīn 1233–1278
    Mishkat Al-Masabih 1340
    Talkhis Al-Mustadrak 1274–1348
    Majma Al-Zawa’id 1335–1405
    Bulugh Al-Maram 1372–1449
    Kanz al-Ummal 16th century
    Zujajat al-Masabih 19th century
    Minhaj us Sawi 20th century
    Muntakhab Ahadith 20th century

    I just found out about how recent some of the latter collections are.

    The Four Books and others are used in Shia Islam instead. Note most Hadith collections are Twelver with a few exceptions. Qalam e Mowla and Daim Al Islam are the only Ismaili ones. The former is Nizari and the latter is Mustaali.

    Kitab Al-Kafi الكتاب الكافي
    Man La Yahduruhu
    Al-Faqih
    من لا يحضره الفقيه
    Tahdhib Al-Ahkam تهذیب الاحکام
    Al-Istibsar الاستبصار

    Book of Sulaym Ibn Qays 7th century
    Al-Sahifa Al-Sajjadiyya 678–713
    Uyun al Akhbar ar Reda 10th century
    Sharh Usul al-Kafi 11th century
    Nahj Al-Balagha 10th century
    Bihar Al-Anwar 17th century
    Haqq al-Yaqeen 17th century
    Ain Al-Hayat 17th century
    Qalam-e-Mowla
    Daim al-Islam 10th century
    Al-Ghadir 19th century

    There is a third sect Ibadi Islam which is limited mostly to Oman.

    Jami Sahih
    Tartib Al-Musnad

    Mutazili also has a Hadith collection and commentary.
    On the Peak of Eloquence (13th century)

    There is also Quran alone Islam.

    The overwhelming majority of Muslims consider hadith to be essential supplements to and clarifications of the Quran, Islam’s holy book, as well as in clarifying issues pertaining to Islamic jurisprudence. Ibn al-Salah, a hadith specialist, described the relationship between hadith and other aspect of the religion by saying: “It is the science most pervasive in respect to the other sciences in their various branches, in particular to jurisprudence being the most important of them.” “The intended meaning of ‘other sciences’ here are those pertaining to religion,” explains Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, “Quranic exegesis, hadith, and jurisprudence. The science of hadith became the most pervasive due to the need displayed by each of these three sciences. The need hadith has of its science is apparent. As for Quranic exegesis, then the preferred manner of explaining the speech of God is by means of what has been accepted as a statement of Muhammad. The one looking to this is in need of distinguishing the acceptable from the unacceptable. Regarding jurisprudence, then the jurist is in need of citing as an evidence the acceptable to the exception of the later, something only possible utilizing the science of hadith.”

    Despite that there have been lots of Muslims who rejected Hadith. Examples include Aslam Jarajpuri, Rashad Khalifa, Ahmed Subhy Mansur, Chekannur Maulavi, Ibrahim an Nazzam, Ghulam Ahmed Pervez, Mohammed Shahrour, Asarulislam Syed, Edip Yuksel, Syed Ahmed Khan, and Kassim Ahmad.

    Various other groups believed that Hadith couldn’t trump Quran which are Zaidi, Mutazili, Ahmadi, etc.

  8. Stephen Kent Gray said

    Sen, under which dynasty did Hadith become so orthodox?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Caliphs

    Raishuddin
    Ummayad (later Cordoba)
    Abbasid (later Malmuk)
    Ayyubid
    Almohad
    Fatimid
    Ottoman
    Sharifian
    Ahmadi

    Those are all of them, but it’s probably one of the earlier ones.

  9. Sen said

    I do not think there was any moment when the hadith became canonised or “orthodox.” Because there was a continual production of new hadith, there was also a continual process of collecting, sifting, and rejecting them. What in retrospect appear to be “canonical collections” with wide acceptance, were not necessarily seen that way at the time. I picture the process as the precipitation and consolidation of solid matter from a murky soup.

  10. Stephen Kent Gray said

    Sen, you have listed several abrogated verses of the Quran in the article.

    Abrogation (Naskh) refers to one Qur’anic verse superseding another, and is itself supported by Qur’anic verses and various hadith narrations.

    Understanding the necessity for Naskh is crucial in understanding Islam and its theology. The Qur’an is said to have been revealed by the angel Jibreel to Prophet Muhammad over a period of twenty-three years.[1][2] During those years, a lot had changed in his personal and private life.
    Muhammad began as a preacher, and ended his life as the founder and Head of the first Islamic state, so it is not surprising that the style and message of later Medinan Qur’anic revelations changed and often conflicted with earlier Meccan ones.

    Today’s Qur’an, when read at face value with its non-chronological organization, can support any number of views on several subjects, and when read as a whole, many surahs clearly contradict one another. This is why Muhammad himself (through Qur’anic revelations) introduced this concept into Islam.

    At the time of the caliphate, some scholars (particularly a preacher from Kufa, Iraq) were banned from explaining and preaching the Qur’an by early ‘ilmic authority figure (usually ‘Alī but sometimes also Ibn ‘Abbās) because of their ignorance of the principles of naskh.

    Some may claim this doctrine does not exist or is not a part of mainstream Islam. However, when you view the chronological order of the revelations, it becomes undeniable. Moreover, Muslims adhere to this doctrine everyday by prohibiting the consumption of alcohol.

    Arabic:ماننسخ من اية او ننسها نات بخير <منها او مثلها الم تعلمان الله على كل شئ قدير
    Transliteration: Ma nansakh min ayatin aw nunsiha na/ti bikhayrin minha aw mithliha alam taaalam anna Allaha aala kulli shay-in qadeerun
    Shakir: Whatever communications We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring one better than it or like it. Do you not know that Allah has power over all things?
    Qur'an Text/Transliteration 2:106

    Allah doth blot out or confirm what He pleaseth: with Him is the Mother of the Book.
    Qur'an 13:39

    And when We change (one) communication for (another) communication, and Allah knows best what He reveals, they say: You are only a forger. Nay, most of them do not know.
    Qur'an 16:101

    They ask thee concerning the Spirit (of inspiration). Say: "The Spirit (cometh) by command of my Lord: of knowledge it is only a little that is communicated to you, (O men!)" If it were Our Will, We could take away that which We have sent thee by inspiration:then wouldst thou find none to plead thy affair in that matter as against Us,-
    Qur'an 17:85-86

    By degrees shall We teach thee to declare (the Message), so thou shalt not forget, Except as Allah wills: For He knoweth what is manifest and what is hidden.
    Qur'an 87:6-7

    http://wikiislam.net/wiki/List_of_Abrogations_in_the_Qur%27an

    Abrogated: 88:21-24
    Abrogator: Verse of the Sword
    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
    Qur'an 9:5

    Abrogated: 4:79-81
    Abrogator: Verse of the Sword
    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
    Qur'an 9:5

    Abrogated: 50:45
    Abrogator: Verse of the Sword
    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
    Qur'an 9:5

    Abrogated: 10:108
    Abrogator: Verse of the Sword
    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
    Qur'an 9:5

    Abrogated: 11:12
    Abrogator: Verse of the Sword
    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
    Qur'an 9:5

    Abrogated: 15:88-89
    Abrogator: Verse of the Sword
    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
    Qur'an 9:5

    Abrogated: 16:82
    Abrogator: Verse of the Sword
    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
    Qur'an 9:5

    Abrogated: 17:54
    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
    Qur'an 9:5

    Abrogated: 27:92
    Abrogator: Verse of the Sword
    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
    Qur'an 9:5

    Abrogated: 39:41
    Abrogator: Verse of the Sword
    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
    Qur'an 9:5

    Abrogated: 42:48
    Abrogator: Verse of the Sword
    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
    Qur'an 9:5

    Abrogated: 13:40
    Abrogator: Verse of the Sword
    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
    Qur'an 9:5

    Abrogated: 29:50
    Abrogator: Verse of the Sword
    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
    Qur'an 9:5

    Abrogated: 35:23
    Abrogator: Verse of the Sword
    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
    Qur'an 9:5

    Abrogated: 38:70
    Abrogator: Verse of the Sword
    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
    Qur'an 9:5

    Abrogated: 42:6
    Abrogator: Verse of the Sword
    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
    Qur'an 9:5

    Abrogated: 46:9
    Abrogator: 48:1-6
    Verily We have granted thee a manifest Victory:

    That Allah may forgive thee thy faults of the past and those to follow; fulfil His favour to thee; and guide thee on the Straight Way;

    And that Allah may help thee with powerful help.

    It is He Who sent down tranquillity into the hearts of the Believers, that they may add faith to their faith;- for to Allah belong the Forces of the heavens and the earth; and Allah is Full of Knowledge and Wisdom;-

    That He may admit the men and women who believe, to Gardens beneath which rivers flow, to dwell therein for aye, and remove their ills from them;- and that is, in the sight of Allah, the highest achievement (for man),-

    And that He may punish the Hypocrites, men and women, and the Polytheists men and women, who imagine an evil opinion of Allah. On them is a round of Evil: the Wrath of Allah is on them: He has cursed them and got Hell ready for them: and evil is it for a destination.

    Abrogated: 24:54
    Abrogator: Verse of the Sword
    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
    Qur'an 9:5

    Abrogated: 4:64
    Abrogator: 9:80
    Ask forgiveness for them or do not ask forgiveness for them; even if you ask forgiveness for them seventy times, Allah will not forgive them; this is because they disbelieve in Allah and His Messenger, and Allah does not guide the transgressing people.

    Abrogated: 4:79-81
    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
    Qur'an 9:5

    Abrogated: 2:256
    Abrogator: Verse of the Sword
    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
    Qur'an 9:5

    Abrogated: 10:99
    Abrogator: Verse of the Sword
    But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
    Qur'an 9:5

    I hope I didn't skip any, but you can find a list of abrogated verses on the link I provided. I didn't expect the verses to be mostly abrogated by that one verse. I knew most abrogations were related to the Verse of the Sword, but thought there would be more abrogations from other verses as the list.

    I knew some of the verses were abrogated from memory, but I checked and found all the verses I listed above. You should look at the link for all of them.

  11. Sen said

    As a rule of thumb, when someone claims one verse teaching one principle has been abrogated by another teaching a different principle, what has actually happened is either (1) the person has some sort of misunderstanding, sees a contradiction where none exists, and uses this trick to solve the difficulty, or (2) someone sees that the Quran teaches something that they do not like, or is different to what they have always learned, and has gone searching for another verse that can be construed as abrogating the teaching they do not accept. This is not exclusive to Islamic theology; the same can be seen in other religions with a scripture.

    One cannot assume as a certainty that Muhammad never changed his principles or contradicted himself. But the burden of proof has to be on the one who claims this. Certainly I have never found a valid instance.

    This must be distinguished from the progressive implementation of the one principle. For example, the use of alcohol was first discouraged, then forbidden. It must also be distinguished from different applications of one principle, in different circumstances. This is why it is important to discover the context, but alas, much of the Islamic literature on the “occasion of revelation” is unreliable: where a verse presents a difficulty, the ulama can simply invent a context that explains it away.

  12. Stephen Kent Gray said

    The principle of naskh is acknowledged by both Sunnis and Shī’a,. Among those groups that did reject naskh were the Mu’tazili, Zaidiyah, and Quranists, on the rationalist grounds that the word of God could not contain contradictions, and the much later Ahmadīs, who argued that all Qur’ānic verses have equal validity, in keeping with their emphasis on the “unsurpassable beauty and unquestionable validity of the Qur’ān”. The harmonization of apparently incompatible rulings is resolved through their juridical deflation in Ahmadī fiqh, so that a ruling (considered to have applicability only to the specific situation for which it was revealed), is effective not because it was revealed last, but because it is most suited to the situation at hand.

    I forgot to mention not all Muslims believe in naskh or abrogation. You can add Ibadis and followers of various Batiniyya schools of Islam.

    Batin is defined as the interior or hidden meaning of the Quran. This is in contrast to the Quran’s exterior or apparent meaning (the Zahir). Some Muslim groups believe that the Batin can only be fully understood and interpreted by a figure with esoteric knowledge, who for Shia Muslims is the Imam of the Time.
    In a wider sense, “batin” can refer to the inner meaning or reality behind all existence, the Zahir being the world of form and apparent meaning. It may also refer to the unseen world of angels and jinns as described in the Quran. In short, anything that is hidden as opposed to that which is evident is Batin or hidden and unseen.

    Batiniyya was originally introduced by Abu’l-Khāttāb Muhammad ibn Abu Zaynab al-Asadī and later developed by Maymun al-Qāddāh and his son ʿAbd Allāh ibn Maymun for the interpretation of Qur’an. It might sometimes be exploited as a pejorative term to refer to those groups, such as Alevism, Ismailism, and often Sufism, which distinguish between an inner, esoteric (Batini) level of meaning in the Quran, in addition to the outer, exoteric level of meaning Zahiri, as well. Batini ta’wil is the name given to the exegesis of the esoteric knowledge which rests with the Imam, or with the Shaykh/Pir in Sufism.

    Alawites
    Alevism
    Bektashi Order, another group focusing on Batin and Zahir
    Druze
    Esoteric interpretation of the Quran
    Hurufiyya
    Ismailism
    Nizari
    Nuqtavi
    Qarmatians
    Sufism

    Batiniyya
    Alevism
    Bektashi Order, another group focusing just like Alevis on Batin and Zahir
    Druze
    Esoteric interpretation of the Quran
    Ismailism
    Nizari
    Alawites
    Qarmatians
    Sufism

  13. KomaGawa said

    I have just returned from Iran , and I had a few conversations regarding the Holy Quran . Every time I spoke the reply was with the attitude of “you can’t possibly understand about the Quran” of course compared to them I don’t . However this fact, in my opinion is also a matter of humility for them to be tested by. I am an adult, having raised a family and taught school and I am 63, I don’t condescend to my students, so even though I expected this attitude, it did become tiring, as I wanted together a chance to speak about this to the average person, through my tour guide, as a direct experience. However I never got a chance to speak with a mulla. Maybe just as well I didn’t 🙂

  14. KomaGawa said

    Permit me to return to the topic of origin, and to try to tie in at least one of Mr. Gray’s lengthy comments; the topic of the separation of church and state.
    I noticed in an English biography of Imam Khomeini that he was frequently a teacher of jurisprudence and erfan (translated as mysticism). I think to a westerner like myself, this seems to be an unusual combination of esoteric matters and forms of procedure in social relationships. I think Mr. Gray has a point regarding the Zahir and Batin aspects of a word. However this seems to me to be a treacherous ground to stand on, that is the esoteric interpretation of the Word. I think my point of view about the Quran is fundamentally different from Mr. Gray and others who rely on their own measurement systems, by this I mean Mr. Gray’s introduction, |”Understanding the necessity of Naskh….”, While I do believe that the Word has many meanings, the hadiths were all composed by relatively ordinary men. They are not equal to the Prophets. If they are not equal or above, they cannot completely grasp the meaning, it is theoretically impossible, I mean either a Prophet is qualitatively different and thus the revealed Word is qualitatively different from the ordinary, or it isn’t. there is no middle ground, as far as I can see, and this is the mistake of the hadith, it seems to me to claim to create some imaginary middle ground where ordinary men can stand and evaluate the Word. Yet, having said that, I do believe that there is a realm of contemplation which is akin to mysticism, and perhaps its fruits have something useful to contribute to my daily life. I am open to this possibility. I have known people who have a philosophic tendency and enjoy thinking about these abstractions. I have listened to their talk. Is there any benefit for us ordinary mortals, Sen-san, Gray-san? It seems that Imam Khomeini has used some bridge to gain political ascendency.. and I wonder if that is contradictory to the tenets of erfan?

  15. David said

    I should note that Wikiislam is an anti-Islamic site, so anything they say regarding abrogation should be considered from that perspective.

  16. Sen said

    Agreed, wiki-islam is largely tendentious anti-islamic tripe, selecting for study those actions, beliefs and writings of Muslims most likely to bring Islam into disrepute.

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