Dr. Robert Dickson CranePosted Jun 9, 2007 •Permalink • Printer-Friendly Version
Compassionate Justice: Source of Convergence between Science and Religion
by Dr. Robert Dickson Crane
International Institute of Islamic Thought, Herndon, Virginia, July 2007
TABLE OF CONTENTS Due to limitations on the length of articles on The American Muslim site, this important article has been put online in a serialized format. The Table of Contents link gives the links for all chapters.
This book on the traditionalist contribution of classical Islam to human rights introduces a new paradigm of compassionate justice as the source of convergence between science and religion. It does so by reviving the traditionalist perspective of the world’s religions as developed in the teachings of classical Islam under the rubric of ‘ilm al ‘adl and ‘ilm al taqwa. These sciences, respectively of the immanent and the transcendent, provide a new vocabulary of metalaw as a holistic basis for exploring the consonance, complementarity, and mutual engagement of science and religion.
The first question when I read a new book is to figure out where the author is coming from, what his premises are, and what kind of new spin he is going to put on old issues.
This book has been condensed from hundreds of my usually quite lengthy articles published in The American Muslim. This scholarly publication, which I co-founded with Sheila Musaji, started as a quarterly print journal in 1989 and soon acquired more than a dozen American-born editors, among whom I was Associate Editor for Political Affairs. Sheila, I, and two others restarted it online as a monthly a few weeks after 9/11, after which its readership measured in hits eventually passed the one million mark. This electronic journal published more than one hundred of my articles during its most recent year, 2006, relevant to metalaw as a transdisciplinary framework for study of the permanent things. This book is the first of a series, if funding can be obtained, to make the content of this electronic journal available again in print form.
My lifelong interest in the classical thought both of America and of Islam, which I hold to be almost identical, started when I entered Harvard in 1945 at the age of 16 to study Russian as the first step in becoming an international journalist. In 1948, I became the first American permitted to study at a university in Occupied Germany, where I studied the sociology of religion and prepared a book on the phenomenon of totalitarian ideology and on the spiritual dynamics of resistance against it. As a result of “field work” with the anti-Communist underground in Eastern Europe, I celebrated my twentieth birthday as a prisoner in Stalin’s Gulag Archipelago, from which miraculously (freely translated as “against all odds”) I escaped twice.
This introduction to the phenomena, causes, and interaction of good and evil led me to earn a doctorate of law (juris doctor) in comparative legal systems at Harvard Law School in 1959 and to continue these studies later in Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the mountains of Pakistan in Central Asia.
My lifelong profession as a futures forecaster for government and industry began in September, 1962, when I became one of the four co-founders of the first Washington-based foreign-policy think-tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In 1966, I left to become Director of Third World Studies at the first professional futures forecasting center, The Hudson Institute, led by Herman Kahn.
The policy-oriented perspectives in this book result also from my work as a “prolicon” (progressive, liberal, conservative) in Republican politics. From 1963 to 1967 I doubled as principal foreign policy adviser to Richard Nixon, who appointed me on January 20th, 1969, to be Deputy Director for Planning in the National Security Council. In 1977-78 I spent a year as Principal Economic and Budget Adviser to the Finance Minister in the Emirate of Bahrain. In September, 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed me U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, with two-track authority to maintain contact with the various Islamist movements in the Middle East and North Africa.
When Henry Kissinger arranged to have me fired, I became a full-time Muslim activist, serving in the mid-80s as Director of Publications at the new International Institute of Islamic Thought and in the early 1990s as Director of the Legal Office of the American Muslim Council, followed by several years as head of my own one-man think-tank, the Center for Policy Research.
My more than a dozen authored or co-authored books include Détente: Cold War Strategies in Transition, Dulles and Crane, CSIS, Praeger, 1965; Planning the Future of Saudi Arabia: A Model for Achieving National Priorities, Praeger, 1978; and Shaping the Future: Challenge and Response, Tapestry, 1997. These have been augmented by countless monographs, including Metalaw: An Islamic Policy Paradigm, 49 pp; The Grand Strategy of Justice, 83 pp; Kosovo and Chechnya: Products of the Past, Harbingers of the Future, 32 pages; The Role of Religion in America, 24 pages; and The Muslim Challenge in America and the World, 35 pages, all pre-9/11 products of my think-tank, The Islamic Institute for Strategic Studies.
As a theoretician with a lifetime of practical experience in my field of civilizational renewal during a time of worldwide civilizational degeneration, including twenty-five years as a full-time Muslim activist, I have necessarily been policy-oriented as a student and participant in the think-tank industry. A major challenge for Muslims in America is to help revive the common ideative heritage of Islam and Christianity based on the common Abrahamic wisdom, so that they can expand their horizons to place higher priority on what is good for America rather than on what is good only for themselves.
This requires both the reform of Muslim thought and support for interfaith efforts not merely to understand Islam but to cooperate in a strategy to accelerate such reform. The most basic challenge for both Muslims and others is to understand the traditionalist contribution of classical Islam on human responsibilities and rights, because ignorance on this subject is the principal barrier in the task of marginalizing extremists.
The three most important questions are: What is the position of Islam as a religion on this critical issue of respect for human rights? Is there a difference between Islam and Muslims? And does it make any difference in the real world?
The second set of questions deals with applying the result of such explorations to the world of policymaking in order to promote justice, order, and freedom in the world, which the Preamble to the American Constitution posited as the three classical purposes of every true civilization. This requires expertise in leveraging the power of ideas through the media and think-tanks.
Governance in America is based on five primary institutions. The first three are formally enshrined in the American constitution. These are the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. In America’s free society the other two primary institutions as de facto branches of governance are the public media and the think-tank community, which feed each other.
The intellectual and moral framework for both the media and think-tanks is shaped by experts and opinion leaders in the civil sector of society, including the leaders of America’s religious traditions. Whoever can shape the paradigms or frameworks of thought, especially in the think-tank community, can shape the public policy agenda. Whoever controls the policy agenda controls policy.
Think-tanks function most cost-effectively not by trying to house on their own premises those most knowledgeable about any particular subject, but by marshalling the expertise of acknowledged scholars, primarily from the academic world of higher education. Without the think-tanks as their means of access to the formal branches of government, these denizens of academia would be irrelevant to the “real world” of politics.
Interfaith understanding both requires and promotes respect based not merely on spokespersons for any particular religious tradition but on the often more objective knowledge of true scholars in the university community. Marshalling their expertise is a primary task of think-tanks.
Religion will gain increasing importance throughout the world in the decades ahead, for either better or worse. This is now accepted in every professional futures forecast. The least understood religion is Islam. An increasingly important task therefore must be to promote better knowledge of Islam, especially among those in the think-tank community, whose profession is to shape the agendas that govern government.
Part One - Interfaith Understanding and Cooperation
Chapter One - The Origin and Fruits of Respect
Islam as a religion, like all religions, is not always well understood or represented even by its own followers. Two approaches can be followed in pursuing the truth about Islam. The first is the negative and confrontational refutation of misunderstandings in order to clear the deck for constructive dialogue. This is putting the cart before the horse. The second is to go to the source of all the understanding and misunderstanding, namely, the scriptures and tradition as understood by most Muslims throughout history.
The most egregious denial of human rights is to deny the right of others to define and interpret their own religion, because this is a denial of human dignity and human freedom. The base case should be Islam as a religion not Muslims as they sometimes understand and practice it in pursuit of political agendas. This is the basis of respect both by and for Muslims within the community of Abrahamic faiths. This should be the basis for long-range planning especially for Muslims and Jews, who throughout most of their history during the past thousand years have been each other’s most reliable friends.
Governments, of course, must base policy prudentially on practical threat analysis, not on theory, but equal emphasis should be placed on “opportunity analysis” in the pursuit of compassionate justice as an end goal in both domestic and foreign policy. The base case for all followers of the Abrahamic faiths who share an opportunity mentality, as distinct from an exclusively threat mentality, should be not the extremes but the balanced middle as understood by the great jurisprudents, philosophers, and spiritual leaders over the course of more than a thousand years in interpreting the Islamic scriptures. These include the Qur’an, the hadith or traditions about the sayings and practice of the Prophet Muhammad and his early followers, and the scholarly writings of the great intellectual leaders, most of whom admittedly have been imprisoned or executed for trying to maintain the purity of Islam as a religion.
Two paradigms of scriptural interpretation have been debated among Muslims since the very beginning. These are whether the messages of God in the various religions should be interpreted as exclusive or inclusive. Historically, the exclusive approach, often condemning to hell all who disagree with the particular interpreter, has gained influence and even dominance in the presence of existential fears in the face of perceived mortal threats from the “other”. Such existential fears fuel the challengers within each religion who would hijack it in their worship of themselves as false gods infused with hatred for everyone who refuses to bow down to their claims to exclusive possession of ultimate truth.
The inclusive approach, on the other hand, welcomes the followers of other paths to God as part of the divine design for all of humanity. This paradigm of thought, which has been the most pervasive in the spread of Islam throughout the world, has been advanced especially by the Sufis. The majority of Muslims in the world follow one of the Sufi paths. They believe that the purpose of divine revelation is to unify in common purpose all persons and communities not at the level of politics but at the level of worship and morality.
The common purpose is love of God, which is every person’s reason for existence, but the paths to this end have always been found in the externals of religious diversity. As persons converge from the externals on the circumference of a circle toward the Oneness of God at the center, they themselves can become unified in action. The spiritual leaders believe that this unity in purpose through diversity in means is the only way to turn justice from merely a utopian word into practice. They believe that this unity in diversity is the only way to turn justice into a practical reality.
The governing paradigm of thought among those who follow the inner meaning of their religion is loving submission to God, known by Muslims as taqwa, which gives meaning to everything else. This is the root of the opportunity mentality and is the best basis for dialogue and mutual cooperation in addressing the practical issues of conscience in both domestic and foreign policy in the world today, because it is based on mutual respect among the followers of all the world religions.
The challenge thereby becomes not a clash of civilizations based on a chasm of purpose between irreconcilable cultures. The major challenge is not even a chasm of meaning within each civilization. Rather, it is the growing chasm between humanity and God.
Chapter Two - Tolerance or Pluralism
We may accept the basic thesis that civilizations as the highest form of human self-identity will be increasingly important in the ‘global village’ during the century ahead. The challenge is whether we can shift to the opportunity mentality in order to transcend the Cold War psychosis and make possible a century of peaceful engagement designed to promote the interests of all civilizations, nations, and persons.
Two underlying questions are whether we can respect each other and whether tolerance is sufficient for this purpose. Is tolerance compatible with peaceful engagement? Is tolerance even a human right? Scholars of interfaith understanding and cooperation are now advancing the view that tolerance is a bankrupt paradigm of thought that must be replaced by a better paradigm if civilization of any kind is to survive the present century.
The generic word “respect” reflects three different levels of a new paradigm of thought. They range from tolerance at the bottom as the least inclusive level, and diversity at an intermediate level, all the way to pluralism as the most inclusive level and in this sense as the opposite of tolerance.
Basic tolerance means merely, “I hate you, but I won’t kill you yet.” Diversity means, “I can’t stand you, but you are here so I can’t do much about it.” Pluralism means, “We welcome you. We have so much to learn from each other because we each have so much to offer.”
Pluralism means that we shift from the mindset that calls at best for both individual and group suicide through assimilation, and that instead we pursue integration whereby the individuals of each group in society proactively bring the wisdom of their tradition to enrich the overall society by sharing responsibility in forming and implementing the society’s agenda.
Mutual respect must emerge from recognition that all the revealed religions contain a universal paradigm of thought. Muslims call this Islam. It is based on affirmation that there is an ultimate reality of which man and the entire universe are merely an expression, that therefore every person is created with some innate awareness of absolute truth and love, and that persons in community can and should develop from the various sources of divine revelation, including natural law, a framework of moral guidance to secure peace through compassionate justice. Recognition of this wisdom is the essence of classical thought in both America and Islam.
Most Muslim radicals deny that this has ever been the mission of American exceptionalism as a unique phenomenon in human history. At best they claim that this vision has been bawdrylized or prostituted to pursue the false gods of power, prestige, privilege, and plutocracy. Even if the original American mission was to be a moral model for the world, these radicals say that the hubris of American self-worship has come to justify and mandate cultural imperialism as a tool to ensconce American power as the epicenter of the political cosmos. The only options presented to its victims are cultural retreat or military defeat.
This confrontational view of the world, shared by so many on both sides of what they see as a growing civilizational divide, raises two questions. First, for Muslims, is America inherently a fraud? If so, can Muslims continue to live in the same world with Americans? Second, for Americans, is Islam a fraud? If so, can Americans or anyone else continue to live in the same world with Muslims, especially those with weapons of mass destruction, or is the world too small for both of them? This is the dilemma that sustains the threat mentality on both sides of the global confrontation between the hawks in America and their only perceived rivals on the global scene, namely, the Muslim hawks on the other side.
This is a false dilemma. The real threat is the threat mentality itself, because it leads to its own self-fulfilling prophecy. Those who predict chaos and oppression unless they can impose their own power on the world are precisely the ones who are turning their fears of chaos into reality.
Part of the problem is the universal temptation to define another person’s religion by defaming it in defense of one’s own. This is the substance of classical apologetics, but in the current environment it can turn into a lethal boomerang. This is so because to interpret another religion as inherently extremist plays into the hands of extremists in this religion by legitimizing their own perversions. Far better as a global strategy would be to support those in every religion who are trying to marginalize the hi-jackers in their own religion by preserving the enlightened understanding that is mutually shared by the traditionalists in all of them. This is the origin of respect and also its fruit.
Chapter Three - The Principles of Respect
The major intellectual challenge for Islamic scholars throughout their history has been to develop from the Islamic scriptures and from the ethical teachings of all civilizations a framework of moral guidance to secure compassionate justice. This framework is entitled the maqasid al shari’ah or the purposes of Islamic law. The underlying purpose is respect for all of God’s creation, and especially for sentient beings made in the divine image.
The role of respect in the Islamic scriptures for followers of the Abrahamic religions, including Muslims as well as Jews and Christians, can be brought out by citing three basic principles emphasized throughout the Qur’an.
The three principles, which are pervasive throughout the Qur’an, are:
1) Freedom of religion, which includes equality in human dignity, unity in diversity, universal conditions for salvation, and equality of the prophets;
2) Love, which includes one’s personal relationship with God, forgiveness, and peaceful reconciliation; and
3) Compassionate justice, which includes personal righteousness and normative law.
Together these three lead to respect for Jews and Christians and to
acceptance of them as fellow peoples of the book.
A. Freedom of Religion
1. Equality in Human Dignity
Immediately following the “throne verse,” which is the most beautiful verse describing the attributes of God, in the second surah, Surah al Baqara, is verse 257. It states simply, “Let there be no compulsion in religion (la ikraha fi al din).”
This is axiomatic because absolute truth does exist and it is human instinct to seek it, but no person or community can know more than a portion of this truth. Certainly no one should claim to possess it to the exclusion of others, because this would be the same as claiming to be God. This is clear from scholarly interpretation of the statement in the throne verse, “He knows all that lies open before men and all that is hidden from them, whereas they cannot attain to any of his knowledge except what He wills [them to attain].” Some scholars consider that this refers to earth and heaven, but the meaning is essentially the same.
The word din used here for religion is the broadest of several related terms and refers to the unchanging spiritual truths that have been preached by every one of God’s prophets. Twice the Qur’an refers to the shar’, which refers to the normative jurisprudential principles common to Judaism, Christianity, and all human communities. The term din in reference to freedom of religion includes also the more restrictive terms minhaj, which refers to an entire way of life based on one’s own conscience and the wisdom of one’s community, and shar’ah, which refers to the governing laws of the particular community. The still more restrictive term, shari’ah, is reserved for the normative principles and specific regulations that are binding only on those who profess to be Muslims.
The Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam, was specifically ordered to treat all people equally regardless of their religion. Shortly after the throne verse we find Verse 2:272, which reads, “It is not for you, O Prophet, to bring people to the path of right guidance, since it is God [alone] who guides whom He will.” The circumstance of this revelation was the Prophet’s advice to his companions to give charity only to his own followers in Medina who were poor. The above revelation came immediately, whereupon the Prophet enjoined his followers to disburse charity based on personal need without regard to religion. Freedom of religion means freedom for all persons to be treated equally in dignity as human beings.
The reason for this requirement of equal treatment is the requirement of respect for every person’s free will. Surah Yunus 10:99-100 reads: “If God had willed, everyone would have believed. Will you then compel humankind to believe against their will? No soul will ever attain to faith except by the Will of God.” As a moral being, every person is free to discriminate and choose between right and wrong and to use one’s reason in conforming to one’s God-willed nature, but this is possible only through the grace of God. No one knows what graces have been bestowed upon another human being or why a particular person was created to choose a path to God within a particular religious community
2. Unity in Diversity
Throughout the Qur’an, we are asked to see the coherence of the universe in the diversity that points to its Creator. If uniformity were the norm, there would be only one standard tree, one standard cloud, and one uniform sunset all over the world. Furthermore, we are directed to see that all beings are created to form pairs and with a nature that seeks community. This communal nature applies also to religion.
Sur’ah al Ma’ida 5:48 reads thus: “To you have we given the scriptures, just as we have given scriptures to people before you. We have protected your scripture [the Qur’an] in its entirety. So, judge among people from what knowledge has come to you, and do not be carried over by your vain desires. Unto every one of you We have appointed a [different] governing system of law (shir’ah) and a [different] way of life (minhaj). If God had so willed, all humanity would have been a single community. God’s plan is to test you in what each one of you has received [in both scriptures and inspiration]. So strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of all people is to God. God [alone] will tell you the truth about matters over which you dispute.”
This is why the immediately preceding verse, 5:47, states: “Let, then, the followers of the Gospel judge in accordance with what God has revealed in it, for those who do not judge in the light of what God has bestowed from on high are truly the iniquitous.” In other words unity in diversity can come only when the diverse paths are respected as legitimate in the plan of God, even though the most comprehensive expression of truth may be found in the Qur’an, after which no further revelation is necessary.
3. Universal Conditions for Salvation
One of the clearest and most insistent messages throughout the Qur’an and in the teachings and practice of the Prophet Muhammad was the universality of salvation within the various religions that have developed in various times and places.
Only three conditions are given as the requirements for salvation. These are: 1) belief in One God; 2) belief in the justice of God both in this world and the next; and 3) the practice of good works.
Near the beginning of the Qur’an in the second surah, Baqarah 2:62, we have the standard formulation: “Those who believe (in the Qur’an), those who follow the Jewish Scriptures, the Christians (those who follow the teachings of the Gospel), and the Sabians – all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds – shall have their reward from their Lord, and they need have no fear, nor shall they grieve.”
The Sabians may refer to a specific people, but, like much of the Qur’an, probably is more generic in referring to all monotheistic peoples, as well as to every individual who follows his own human nature and recognizes the essence of what all the prophets have taught. Muslims in the East, from Persia to the Pacific, have always included the Lord Buddha in this category. One of the early revelations in the Qur’an, Surah al Tin, refers symbolically to four religions. According to many commentators, this surah takes its title from the first symbol, namely, the Bo Tree (Tin) under which The Buddha received enlightenment.
In Surah al Baqara 2:112 an even more generic formulation is given: “Everyone who surrenders his whole being unto God, and is a doer of good, shall have his reward with his Sustainer; and all such need have no fear, and neither shall they grieve.” The literal translation is “everyone who surrenders his face unto God,” which is classical Arabic for one’s whole being. Whoever does so is a Muslim and it is in this sense that the terms islam (the religion) and muslim (the person who surrenders to God) are used throughout the Qur’an.
The worst heresy among Muslims is evidenced by the official Saudi translations of the Qur’an which assert that the above two verses and all like them have been abrogated by verses that say only Muslims can enter heaven. This, of course, is arguing in the classical vicious circle (circulosum viciosum), because the allegedly abrogated verses clearly define the terms Islam and Muslim. This doctrine of abrogation has functioned like a computer virus and has multiplied into the abrogation of hundreds of verses. Those who justify their new, hate-filled religion by asserting that God changed his mind through abrogation are playing God. This process of selective interpretation and deletion eventually would gut the entire Qur’an of all meaning.
Needless to say, certain perversions of the Yusuf Ali translation of the Qur’an, which has been distributed free in millions of copies all over the world, deleted Yusuf Ali’s footnote about the title of Surah al Tin, as well as all references to everything that the literalist Wahhabis could attack as esoteric “Sufi” or “Shi’a” symbolism pointing to the universality of salvation. Fortunately, the Saudi government in its latest mass distribution of this highly edited version of this translation have deleted the name Yusuf Ali from the title.
The Wahhabi religion also gives a highly exclusionary meaning to the word usually translated as “unbeliever.” This word, kafir (plural kuffar or kaffirun), comes from the verb kafara, which means to deliberately hide (the truth). Such are referred to as “bent on denying the truth.” All Wahhabis assign both Christians and Jews to this category. Some Wahhabis include Christians in the further category of polytheists or mushrikun, those who commit shirk by worshipping Jesus as a false god. These not only deny the truth but worship something other than God. Further, among these, may be the hypocrites or munafiqun, those who claim to believe but in fact do not and are traitors. Such hypocrites are the subject of verses 57 to 63, but Wahhabis typically apply them to all Jews and Christians.
The Wahhabis quote Surah al Ma’ida 5:73, “They deny the truth who say, ‘Behold, God is the third of a trinity,’ since there is no deity whatever except the One God. And unless they desist from this their assertion, grievous suffering is bound to befall such of them as are bent on denying the truth.”
The classical scholars referred to in the mainline Qur’an commentaries distinguish true polytheists from the Christians who say Jesus is God in an observable form as a divine manifestation and who believe in multiple revelations to humanity. As Muhammad Asad puts it in his commentary, “Although, by their deification of Jesus they are guilty of the sin of shirk (“the ascribing of divinity to anyone or anything beside God”), the Christians do not consciously worship a plurality of deities inasmuch as theoretically their theology postulates belief in One God, Who is conceived as manifesting Himself in a trinity of aspects or ‘persons’, of whom Jesus is supposed to be one. Their shirk is not based on conscious intent, but rather flows from their ‘overstepping the bounds of truth’ [5:77] in their veneration of Jesus.” In reference to the next surah, Surah An’am 6:23, Asad says, “The mystical doctrine of the ‘trinity,’ in the Christian view, does not conflict with the principle of God’s Oneness inasmuch as it is supposed to express a ‘three-fold aspect’ of the One Deity.” He quotes the Great Commentary, Tafsir al Kabir, by Razi (Muhammad Fakhr al Din al Razi, died 606 h), who explains that, “The person concerned does not subjectively visualize [ascribing divine qualities to a being or force other than God] as denying God’s Oneness.” After all, the Prophet Muhammad said that every person is made in the image of God.
Unfortunately, such subtleties can be fully understood only by Sufis, which is why the Wahhabis insist that all Sufis are going to hell, even though the acceptance of Christians as believers who warrant heaven if they do good works is clear throughout the Qur’an. To deny this renders the Qur’an incoherent, unless one simply abrogates whatever conflicts with the Wahhabis own exclusivist religion and thereby abolishes the religion of Islam.
4. Equality of Prophets
A central teaching in Islam is that God has provided a prophet for every people, beginning with the cavemen millions of years ago, and probably has done so for all the sentient beings on the perhaps millions of other inhabitable planets in the universe. The Qur’an states that no community has been left without a prophet. The hadith suggest that the number of prophets is 124,000, which means numerous beyond count.
Since all prophets taught essentially the same thing, the Qur’an specifically says that they are all equal, even though they may have had different emphases depending on their audiences. This equality of prophets mirrors the Qur’anic emphasis on the equality of believers in the different religious traditions.
The standard formulation is first found in Surah al Baqara 2:136: “Say: ‘We believe in God, and in what has been bestowed upon us from on high, and that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendents, and that which has been vouchsafed to Moses and Jesus, and that which has been vouchsafed to all the [other] prophets by their Sustainer: we make no distinction among any of them. And it is unto Him that we [all of us] surrender ourselves (literally “unto Him we are Muslims)’.”
This is repeated verbatim in the next surah, Surah Ali Imran 3:84, and is preceded by the rhetorical question in 3:83, “Do they seek perchance a faith other than in God, although it is unto Him that whatever is in the heavens and on earth surrenders itself, willingly or unwillingly, since unto Him all must return.” The standard formulation is followed in 3:85 by the warning, “For, if one goes in search of a religion other than self-surrender unto God (literally “other than the din of Islam”), it will never be accepted from Him, and in the life to come he shall be among the lost.”
This emphasis on the equality of prophets as representatives of God is why a Muslim is not a Muslim unless he believes in the holy scriptures given to the Jews and Christians.
Perhaps some day a commentary on the New Testament, which the Muslims refer to as the Evangelium, will be prepared to explain this. Even the collection of canonical gospels and letters established by Emperor Constantine in the first council of Nicaea in 325 does not define Jesus, peace be upon him, as God, despite the Nicaean Creed to the contrary. We read in the canonical Christian scriptures: “For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to his generation” Luke 11:20. “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God” Luke 12:8. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory” Matthew 25:31. “Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” Matthew 26:64. “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” he said to the one who was paralyzed, “I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home” Luke 5:24. “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the tribes of Israel” Matthew 19:28. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” Mark 10:45.
All of this mirrors the descriptions in the Islamic scriptures. None of it contradicts the Islamic teaching that Jesus is a glorious manifestation of God, namely, of God’s attribute of mercy, just as the other two “persons” of God, the Father and the Holy Spirit, manifest His attributes of power and wisdom as the three parts of a trinity. Both Meister Eckhart, who succeeded Saint Thomas of Aquinas in the chair of theology at the University of Paris seven hundred years ago, and Hans Kung, who may be the greatest living theologian in any faith, distinguished the level of Being, marked by the names of God, from the level of Beyond Being as understood by the classical Islamic theologians.
As so beautifully described by the Orthodox Jew, Edward W. Miller, in his table-top book, Vision of Abraham, “Jews and Muslims believe that God began the creation of the world with words; that by naming objects God created them.” This mystical doctrine of associating but also distinguishing attribute from reality is common to all religions.
The Qur’an is merely a continuation and restorer of the same message that came to the Jews and Christians in earlier eras. Every prophet has this same task in continuing the eternal message of a merciful God to his creatures, who are free to reject this message but with divine help can not only accept it but rise higher than the angels.
1. The Personal Relationship with God
The most pervasive teaching in the Islamic religion is the centrality of love. Oddly, this is precisely the concept that its detractors insist does not and cannot exist. Unfortunately, Islam has more than its share of professed adherents who share the conclusions of its detractors and accordingly exhibit arrogance toward God and exude hatred rather than love for Jews and Christians. Such hatred is the origin both of terrorism and of terroristic counter-terrorism.
The word islam means submission to God but implies both love as the means to submission and peace as the result. The Qur’an often uses the term taqwa, which means loving awareness of God. The common word for love, hubb, as the basis for the reciprocal relationship of love intended between God and the human person first appears near the beginning of the Qur’an in the second chapter, Surah al Baqara 2: 165: “Those who have attained to faith love Allah more than all else.”
The combination of God’s love and mercy first appears in the next chapter, Surah Ali Imran 3:31, which introduces the Virgin Mary and the “Word from God,” Jesus, whose message is renewed by Muhammad. The Prophet Muhammad is instructed to say, “If you love God (in tuhibbuna Allaha), follow me, and God will love you (yuhbibkum Allahu) and forgive you your sins, for God is much forgiving, a dispenser of grace.” The term hubb is first used in conjunction with taqwa in 3:76, fa ina Allaha yuhibu al mutaqin “for God loves those who live in awe of God’s love.”
The first complete listing in English of all terms in the Qur’an referring to love may be found in the Concordance of the Qur’an in English by H. E. Kassis, University of California Press. In addition to hubb it also lists the related terms radiya, shaghata, and wadud (waada and wadda).
The favorite prayer of the Prophet Muhammad, and of millions of Muslims after him, is Allahumma, asaluka hubbaka wa hubba man yuhibuka wa hubba kuli ‘amali yuqaribuni ila hubbka, “Oh Allah, I ask you for Your love, and for the love of those who love You, and for the love of everything that will bring me closer to your love.”
Compassion and mercy are the essence of Allah in his name Al Rahman and are manifested in his attribute of action Al Rahim. Almost every surah in the Qur’an begins with the invocation “Bi ismi Allah, al Rahman al Rahim,” as does every prayer by practicing Muslims.
Surah Fatir 35:45 concludes with the statement that if it were not for the mercy of Allah not a single living creature would enter heaven.
This is why kindness and forgiveness are encouraged throughout the Qur’an, which states about those who forgive transgressors, “Their reward is with God, for God loves those who exercise restraint and forgive.”
Forgiveness is also an essential part of Islamic law. The well-known punishments of retribution are covered in Surah al Ma’ida 5:45, “We ordained in the Torah a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, and an ear for a ear, and a tooth for a tooth, and a similar retribution for wounds, but he who shall forego it out of charity will atone thereby for some of his past sins.”
The same applies to the prescribed punishment for theft, which is cutting off the thief’s hand. This is waived in times and in societies where poverty reduces the freedom of the individual to maintain a moral life based on truth. This reflects the Prophet Muhammad’s warning, “Poverty may well turn into a denial of the truth.” This means that those who must exert all their energy merely to survive have no dignity, no freedom, and no spiritual progress. This can drive whole communities into materialism and away from love of God. This is why the second caliph, ‘Umar ibn al Khattab, gave a blanket waiver and eliminated the particular hadd of cutting off hands during a time of hunger.
This aspect of Islamic law reflects the basic Islamic teaching that the economic well-being of the individual is essential. If the functioning of societal institutions does not provide adequate material well-being through the community’s duty to protect its members, it has no right to apply the full punishment for theft. In a fully functioning Islamic society, however, theft by one person from another is considered to be an attack on all of society and deserves full hudud. In this case, the thief may be pardoned only if he repents and returns the stolen goods before apprehension, because at least from the standpoint of society he does not otherwise merit mercy and forgiveness.
The fact that the exhortation to forgiveness is not in the Pentateuch has prompted Muslim scholars to conclude either that the full revelation of the Qur’an was not given to the ancient Jews or that they had subsequently left it out of their scriptures, so that it needed to be restored because mercy is an essential part of compassionate justice.
3. Reconciliation and Peace
The opposite of love and forgiveness is the ascription of collective guilt to another community because of the sins of some of its members. This leads to war. The Qur’an specifically condemns collective guilt as the origin of politically inspired hiraba, which is the closest Arabic equivalent to “terrorism.” Collective guilt is used as the justification for blowing up Jewish babies and “driving the Jews into the sea.” Of course, extremists among Jews would like to do the same to all Palestinians in response to the perceived collective guilt of the entire world for the shoah or holocaust. And extremist Christians would like to nuke Mecca now rather than later as retaliation against the incineration of thousands of innocent people in the towers of the World Trade Center. But one crime of collective guilt does not justify another in an unending chain of destruction.
In the universal principles of Islamic jurisprudence the right to life is next in importance to freedom of religion, so much so that both the Jewish and Islamic scriptures compare slaying another human being to killing all of humanity. As in the holocaust, quantity becomes somewhat irrelevant compared to the evil of the crime, which in the shoah was unprecedented in human history. Near the beginning of Surah al Ma’ida, 5:32, we read, “If anyone slays a human being – unless it be [in punishment] for murder or for spreading corruption on earth (fasad fi al ‘ardi) – it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind.”
Long before the beginning of international law in Europe, Islamic scholars developed a sophisticated set of criteria for the just war similar to that now universally accepted at least in theory throughout the world. Islam does not preach pacifism because the Prophet Muhammad warned his sometimes reluctant followers that under certain conditions one must oppose aggressors with force, because otherwise not a single synagogue, church, or mosque would remain standing. A permanent state of war, as advocated by many Muslim extremists today, however, is both unnecessary and forbidden.
Self-defense is the first requirement for resort to physical force. This is limited to extreme provocation, in which case refusal to fight is forbidden, but even then the time may come when one should seek reconciliation and peace even at the risk of defeat. Thus the standard English translation of Verse 9 of Surah al Mumtahinah 60:9 states: “God only forbids you to turn in friendship towards such as fight against you because of your faith, and drive you forth from your homelands, or aid others in driving you forth. As for those (from among you) who turn towards them in friendship, they are truly wrongdoers.” This verse refers to those Muslims at the time who were secretly trying to secure their own future by making private political alliances with the tribes that were trying to expel and annihilate the Muslims.
The term here mis-translated as “turning toward them in friendship,” yatawallahum, is the verb form of walii, which means “guardian.” This is one of the 99 names of Allah and is the same as the term “God-father” in Christian baptism. The plural awliyaa’ is the Arabic term for spiritual leaders or saints. It clearly does not refer to ordinary friends.
This is a perfect example of why no English translation of the Qur’an can possibly capture all the nuances of the Qur’anic Arabic - any more than a modern English translation of the Latin of the Church Fathers can contain the meaning of their specific terms of art. For example, the Latin word bonum, meaning “the good,” has been the subject of hundreds of lengthy books, none of which bear any resemblance to what its simplistic translation might mean in popular parlance today. Shi’a intellectuals have written entire books to explain two nouns that come from the waliya root, namely, wilaya and walaya, both names of Allah, which are critical to the concept of the initatic chain that distinguishes Shi’ism from Sunnism.
Despite this clear warning against double-dealing as a violation of just-war principles, Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, urges all Muslims, as well as all others, to maintain an opportunity mentality through what today we call “two-track diplomacy.” He qualifies this warning against what is known nowadays as “aiding and abetting the enemy” with the exhortation in Verse 7 of Mumtahinah: “But it may well be that God will bring about mutual affection between you and some of those whom you now face as enemies, for God is infinite in His power – and God is much-forgiving and a dispenser of grace”. Allah adds in Verse 8: “As for such who neither fight against you on account of your faith nor drive you forth from your homelands, God does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity (qist), for verily God loves those who act equitably” (60:8).
The laws of just war were revealed principle by principle in real-time, which is why the illa or circumstances of the particular revelation are important. The first set of rules in the Islamic just-war doctrine followed the Battle of Badr. This was the first battle between the Qurayshites from Mecca and the Muslims who two years earlier had emigrated from Mecca to Medina in order to avoid being massacred. A state of open war had developed, so the Muslims lured the Meccan army to fight on neutral turf of their choosing by announcing well in advance that they were going to attack a Meccan caravan of a thousand camels returning from Syria. The Muslim victory resulted in the capture of several dozen Qurayshites, which precipitated several revelations, recorded in Surah al Anfal.
The first such was the command that booty captured from the enemy should not be an object of individual greed, as was common at the time in Arabia (Surah al Anfal 8:41). For this reason the sole authority on disposing of the booty was to be the Prophet Muhammad, who was directed to distribute a fifth for the common good as determined by the government, “for the near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer.”
The second revelation, in 8:67, forbid the taking of captives in peacetime, that is, except after a legitimate defensive jihad on behalf of justice and freedom. This was designed to forbid the taking of slaves as an object of warfare and, in effect, at the time was designed eventually to eliminate slavery altogether. And even those POWs taken in legitimate warfare, according to the previous surah (47:4), must be freed after the war is over.
The ahadith describe a dispute between the men who became the first two political successors of the Prophet Muhammad, Abu Bakr and Umar, over what to do with the prisoners taken at the Battle of Badr. ‘Umar ibn al Khattab argued that they should all be killed in revenge. Abu Bakr, on the other hand, argued that they should be released in return for ransom, because such an act of mercy might induce them to appreciate the truth of Islam. This dispute was settled by another revelation, Surah al Anfal 8:68, which has been interpreted by most of the classical scholars as a warning that the taking of booty is legitimate but the proposed execution of the prisoners would have constituted an awesome sin and warranted a “tremendous chastisement.”
In Surah al Anfal 8:58, the Muslims are warned against treachery, whether committed by themselves or by others: “If you have reason to fear treachery from people [with whom you have a covenant], cast it back at them in an equitable manner (sawaa’)”. The classical scholars interpret this to mean that one should not attack without warning, but announce beforehand that the treaty is no longer binding.
In Surah al Anfal 8:61-62, God reveals in the Qur’an that, “If your enemy inclines toward peace, then you should seek peace and trust in God. He is all-hearing and all-knowing. And should they seek only to deceive you [by their show of peace] – behold, God is enough for you.” The implication is that even a deceptive peace must be accepted, since all judgment of their intentions must be based on outward evidence alone. In other words, mere suspicion cannot be made an excuse for rejecting an offer of peace.
“But if they do not stay their hands, seize them and slay them whenever you come upon them, for it is against these that We have clearly empowered you [to make war]” Surah al Nisaa 4:91.
Unfortunately, those who have a self-serving agenda other than the pursuit of truth and the legitimate defense of human rights have reversed the above Qur’anic teachings on peace to justify terrorism. This reversal of truth and error, by both Muslims and others, is the fundamental source, nature, and result of evil as taught in the ahadith about the Anti-Christ (the Messiah al Dajjal).
The limits of just war are the same as the limits for the jihad al asghar or Lesser Jihad. The aims must be approved by legitimate authority and must be limited to the defense of human rights for oneself and others. The amount of force must be held to the minimum required for victory in order to avoid harm to non-combatants and property. “Fight in the cause of God [to defend justice] against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits, for God does not love transgressors” Surah Baqara 2:190. Furthermore the expected benefit from war must be greater than its inevitable harm. And all measures short of war must have been exhausted in the search for justice.
Among the measures short of war are the other two forms of jihad. These are the jihad al akbar or Greatest Jihad and the jihad al kabir or Great Jihad. The greatest jihad is the purification of the self spiritually so that one will always seek peace. The greatest and lesser jihads are found in the hadith or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.
The great jihad, which is the only one mentioned in the Qur’an (Surah al Furqan 25:52) reads, wa jahidhim bihi jihadan kabiran, “strive with it (divine revelation) in a great jihad.” This is the intellectual jihad needed especially during times when one’s soul and body are relatively secure. This is the struggle of tajdid or societal renewal in order to promote greater justice at all levels of human community, since injustice is the major cause of war.
According to the Grand Mufti of Syria, Shaykh Ahmad Kuftaro, who headed one of the Naqshbandi Sufi orders until his death at an advanced age, “The Great Jihad is to acquaint ourselves and others with our Lord, with His greatness, wisdom, justice, mercy, and love. It is to reflect all of His attributes, as we can conceive of them, in our own lives so that we become instruments of His purpose. And the Great Jihad is to acquaint ourselves and others with the models of Allah’s attributes to be found in the Prophets and Messengers of Allah and in their common message in all its purity and fullness in the life of the Prophet Muhammad.”
The Great Jihad and the Greatest Jihad also call for countering the many distortions of truth that professional polemicists have been popularizing in their war against the religion of Islam by reviving the leftovers from the time of the crusades. These distortions are based largely on ahadith and revisions of sirah or histories of the Prophet’s teachings and actions that are of questionable reliability at best. These have been further misinterpreted and distorted by political prostitutes among the Muslims who were either bought, as in the past, by one Muslim tyrant or another in the march of imperial Islamdom or, as in the present, are ensnared in an ideology of hopeless alienation, hatred, and violence.
Such self-serving, radical Muslims provide more than enough grist for the mills of the modern Muslim bashers. These distortions include allegations of pedophilia based on the age of A’isha when she married the Prophet Muhammad, which modern scholarship now has concluded is about 17; allegations that the Muslim heaven is a whorehouse, based on absurd anthropomorphizing of the heavenly huries; detailed stories about the massacre of all the male members of the treasonous Jewish Qurayzah tribe in Medina, about which the first report originated more than 150 years after the alleged event; the accusation of banditry in explaining the early efforts of the Muslim emigrants from Mecca to recover their goods confiscated by the Meccans for sale after the Muslims were forced to flee for their lives to Medina; the accusation that the Qur’an calls for stoning adulterers, when, in fact, this is nowhere to be found in the Qur’an, which in Surah al Nur 24:2 limits the punishment to whipping; and the claim that the phrase “smite above their necks” in Surah al Anfal 8: 12-13 provides the basis for the practice of beheading hostages and prisoners, when in fact this phrase in classical Arabic calls for unconditional surrender. Such allegations and perversions do not have to be invented by Muslim bashers, because for various self-serving reasons over the centuries they have been either invented or exaggerated by Muslim revisionists themselves seemingly determined to generate an artificial clash of civilizations.
Muslim scholars are taking the lead now to critique the sources, especially the hearsay hadith, based on whether these reports further explain the basic message of the Qur’an or contradict it, and on whether specific Qur’anic revelations were of general import or were directed toward immediate events at a time when the Muslim community was on the verge of annihilation.
Muslim women scholars are researching the secondary sources and interpretations in order to undo more than a thousand years of patriarchal bias. Until recently, for example, few questioned the absurd daraba verse, which allegedly calls for beating one’s wife. Modern scholarship reveals that the term daraba has at least a dozen different meanings in the Qur’an, the obvious one in this verse meaning not to beat, but “to separate.” This, in turn, must be limited by the Prophet’s warning that “divorce is the worst of all things permitted by God.”
Only Muslim women can free themselves from bondage, and they are now rising in a global chorus to explain the true meaning of reconciliation and peace.
Unfortunately, failure to observe the principles of prioritization among the challenges in restoring gender equity has caused some militant feminists to engage in open rebellion. The most egregious example perhaps was in February 2005, when the Islamic scholar, Amina Wadud, led a televised Friday Prayer which she justified by saying, “It is the Qur’an that gives me the means to say no to the Qur’an.” This was part of Asra Nomani’s campaign to promote her “Ten-Point Islamic Bill of Rights for Woman in the Mosque.” Neither the Qur’an nor Islamic law forbid a woman to lead a mixed congregation in the formal Friday salah, but it is definitely makruh or to be discouraged under normal circumstances. All the other nine points in this gender bill of rights should be implemented immediately before the most challenging of all can possibly be accepted by the community. More important is the seven-year effort by perhaps Islam’s greatest woman scholar, Laleh Bakhtiar, to produce a scholarly translation of the Qur’an, which finally was published in April 2007.
Good translations and annotations of the Qur’an are now becoming available free, such as that by Muhammad Asad from The Book Foundation. A profound tafsir or commentary on the Qur’an is now nearing completion by The Traditionalist Foundation under the direction of Syed Hossein Nasr, who has long been University Professor in Islamic Studies at George Washington University and over the past half century has published a score of excellent books on Islam for both scholars and inquisitive teenagers. Recently he has augmented the wealth of good books on Islam by his introductory volume, The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity.
C. Compassionate Justice
The third of the principles that lead to respect among all people of faith, other than freedom of religion and love, is compassionate justice. This includes both individual righteousness, known as qist, and social justice, known as’adl.
Islamic teaching and practice distinguish between righteousness and justice. This is shown by the use of both terms in Surah al Nisaa 4:135: “Be ever steadfast in upholding equity (qist). … Do not follow your own desires lest you swerve from justice (‘adl).” What is translated as equity refers to a set of responsibilities in the practice of individual virtue, because virtue at the individual level is the essential foundation of justice at the level of the community. This is why the portion of Surah al Nisaa leading up to verse 135 deals with one’s personal spiritual life (verses 105 to 126) followed by responsibilities and rights in social behavior (verses 127 to 130), including a strong moral but not legal restriction on plural marriage in verse 129 as part of the rights of women.
Equity or qist, though usually not differentiated from justice, includes the five pillars of Islam, which are submission to God and divine revelation, prayer, charity, fasting, and the pilgrimage to Mecca in the hajj. These are essential means to go beyond the level of islam, which may be defined as belief in the Islamic creed or ‘aqida (belief in the infinite power of God, ultimate justice, angels, divine revelation, and prophets) to the higher level of iman or faith so that one can become fully human. God’s supreme gift to every person is one’s endowment with a conscious soul, referred to in the Qur’an as the ruh or spirit, which God breathes into every person as a “breath of His own spirit.” Every person’s identity is the person God intends him to be, so the pursuit of iman is to become that person. At the highest level, known as ihsan, which is the goal of Sufis, one’s subjective impression, though not the absolute reality, is that only God exists, because everything else is relatively irrelevant. This is a foretaste of heaven.
Justice is the most universal value in all civilizations. Justice assumes the existence of a truth higher than man-made or positivist law. In fact, justice is merely an expression of this truth. Thus God reveals in Surah al An’am 6:115 of the Qur’an, wa tamaat kalimatu rabika sidqan wa ‘adlan, “The word of your Lord is fulfilled and perfected in truth and in justice.”
The purpose of all religion is to empower the truth. Justice is important for Muslims because they consider that it is the translation of truth into practice and that therefore justice is nothing more than the Will of God. Its nature and substance, however, must be sought out through deduction from divine revelation, natural law (known by Muslims as the sunnatu Allahi), and human intellectual processing of the first two sources. In other words, justice is heuristic in the sense that it constantly seeks knowledge about the sources, nature and practice of justice, with the challenges lying more in the present as a means to build on the best of the past in search of a better future.
Justice requires us to recognize that there is such a thing as the furqan or difference between right and wrong at an absolute level of truth and that we are not the ultimate arbiters of it. The major purpose of prophets as intermediaries between God and humankind is to raise our natural awareness of the multi-dimensional nature of reality. Jesus, whom Muslims call the Prophet of Love and a Word from God through the Holy Spirit (Ruh al Quddus), taught that as a manifestation of the divine he was an essential link. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” This statement of ultimate reality and of the means to access it is just as true today as it was when Jesus spoke it 2,000 years ago and is perhaps even more needed, now that we have entered the most militantly polytheistic period of human history.
The above three principles of respect, namely, freedom of religion, love, and compassionate justice, constitute the essence of Islam and the paradigmatic framework for human rights in all higher religion.
1. The underlying philosophical conflicts that have persisted throughout the history of Islamdom between the physical science of natural law and the wisdom of spiritual knowledge are explained below in Part Three of this introductory monograph.
2. Miller, Edward W., The Vision of Abraham: The Intertwined Stories of Islam and Judaism Told Through Images, Amana Publications, Beltsville, Maryland, 2005, 203 pp, page 23, citing Pirke Avoth, 5:1, Genesis 13:22, and Qur’an
3. Among the hundreds of articles on this subject, see Robert D. Crane, http://www.theamericanmuslim.org, March 2005; Ingrid Mattson, “Can a Woman be an Imam? Debating Form and Function in Muslim Women’s Leadership,” Sisters: Women, Religion, and Leadership in Christianity and Islam, ed. Scott Alexander, Sheed and Ward, 2005; Louay Safi, “Women and the Masjid,” Islamic Horizons, May-June 2005; and Imam Za’id Shakir, “Revisionist and ‘Progressive’ Fiqh Movements,” Columbia University MSA, March 2005
4. Bakhtiar, Laleh, The Sublime Qur’an, Based on the Hanafi, Maliki, and Shafii Schools of Law, Institute of Traditional Psychology, islamicworld.com, distributed by Kazi Publications, Chicago, 2007, 710 pages.
5. Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity, HarperCollins, 2002, 338 pages.