Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a courageous Pakistani writer who published the first part of this essay in Pakistan Today -- it was later taken down (not surprisingly), but I reposted it here. Then he published the second part in the Telegraph. And now I am pleased to present part III as a Jihad Watch exclusive. -- RS
Don’t blame the Taliban III
Let’s bring everything into context
by Kunwar Khuldune Shahid
Ever since Taliban’s attack on Malala Yousafzai, there’s almost universal condemnation of the act and of the ‘Taliban ideology’. Even though there are exceptions, most notably in Pakistan where a lot of people bizarrely consider the schoolgirl a CIA agent and the attack a US-staged hoax, the general consensus is that the Taliban and their religious understanding is to be blamed for the increasing violence that is being committed in the name of Islam. Muslim apologists claim that since Islam is inherently peaceful, whenever violence is committed in the name of their religion, the offender has taken the hostile and dubious teachings out of context – much like every single individual who dares to criticize Islam. However, a closer and unprejudiced study of the Quran reveals that in a lot of the cases when you actually ‘bring things into context’, the overall meaning of the controversial verses ironically becomes prodigiously more repugnant.
Quran, as ambiguous as it is in most other matters, quite unmistakably and repetitively asserts the need of violence to spread Allah’s message. However, the problem lies in the criteria for when violence is legitimate and when it isn’t, which seems to fluctuate haphazardly throughout the Quran. That particular problem is solved when one considers the time and the chronological order of the revealed Surahs, and Al-Nasikh Wal-Mansukh (The Doctrine of Abrogation). The Doctrine of Abrogation is an integral part of the study of Quran, and not at all “contentious” as the Generation Y apologists of Islam would have you believe. Claiming that the doctrine is debatable would mean directly questioning the four caliphs, the six Sahi Hadith compilers and pretty much every single Islamic scholar born before the 20th century AD. Hence, unless you are planning on slashing question marks over the teachings of the likes of Abu Bakr Siddiq, Umar Bin Khattab, Ali Bin Abi Talib, Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari, Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, Ibn Jawzi, Ibn Kathir, Ibn Qayyim, etc, you really can’t question the doctrine.
The primary reason the ‘Al-Nasikh Wal-Mansukh’ doctrine becomes a necessity while trying to interpret the Quran is because of the myriad contradictions. Let’s take a minor example of the prohibition of alcohol in the Quran, which was conjured up in three stages and in three different Surahs (4:43, 2:219, 5:93-4). If one were to ignore the doctrine then according to (4:43) which states:
“O you who have believed, do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying…”
Drinking alcohol, and even praying after recently consuming it, becomes permissible as long as you “know what you are saying”.
And this is one of many examples of the doctrine which clarified how the contradictory verses are abrogated by the Surahs that chronologically followed the Surahs that had the contradictions. But since the focus of this piece is violence, we’ll just stick to that for the time being.
The two most noteworthy “sword” verses (9:5) and (9:29), both from Surah-at-Tawbah, are often cited by the critics of Islam as clear examples of Islam encouraging violence against non-believers, while the apologists claim that the verses are taken out of context and Islam only prescribes “defensive” Jihad. So what exactly is the context?
Verses(9:5) and (9:29), respectively translate into:
“Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful”
“Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”
Surah-at-Tawbah was revealed during the Battle of Tabuk in 9 AH and was one of the last Surahs revealed to the prophet. So, one merely needs to look into the historical context of the battle to gauge the message of the Surah. This battle against the Byzantine Empire was initiated by the prophet when the emperor, Heraclius was apparently preparing an attack on the Muslims – like expansionists and dictators throughout the course of history an excuse was always conjured up at the time to ‘justify’ aggression.
The sword verses abrogate over 120 Quranic verses and the treaties calling for peace with the non-believers that allowed them to practice their own religions without any coercion. This is vindicated by the very first verse of the Surah, which is the only Surah in the Quran that doesn’t begin with bismillah:
“A declaration of immunity from God and His apostle to the idolaters with whom you have made agreements” (9:1)
Verse 9:29, revealed during the preparation of Battle of Tabuk, kick started the three-pronged Muslim course of battle– 1. Invitation to accept Islam 2. Demand for the payment of Jizya and 3. Instigation of war. This tradition was carried forward throughout Islam’s expansionist phase; wherein refusal to accept Islam or pay Jizya was considered reason enough to launch a “defensive” war against the infidels. This trend was continued by the first four caliphs of Islam and the leaders that followed en route to formulating a gargantuan Islamic empire. Again, if the “blessed companions” of the prophet misapprehended his and Allah’s ostensible concept of a “defensive war” the skeptics of Islam can be forgiven for the “misunderstanding” as well. Or of course it could mean that the prophet, the caliphs, and leading Islamic scholars understood the concept of Jihad rather well but the present-day apologists want Quran’s message to appear differently, since the original command doesn’t fit in too nicely with the modern-day norms.
It is amusing how the apologists would summon their context scrutinizing radars for the violent verses, while the ‘peaceful’ verses are supposed to be universal. Why not bring the peaceful verses into context as well.
Ayats like (2:256) and (2:90), which order the Muslims to “not transgress” and claim that there should be no “compulsion in religion”, are from the early phase in Madina, where Muslims were trying to appease the Jews and gain their support. The oft-highlighted verse (5:51) which ordered the Muslims to not take Jews and Christians for friends or they’d be “one of them” was revealed in the build up to the Khyber Expedition in 7AH, when the Jewish tribe of Banu Qurayza was obliterated. The entire Surah 5 – Al Maida – castigates Jews and Christians for distorting the original message of Allah and is a significant shift from the earlier Quranic Surahs which showcased relative tolerance towards the non-believers.
In fact, understanding the context of the violent and peaceful verses is rather simple – it moves in synchrony with the militaristic strength of the Muslims at the time, and the political agenda. This is why most verses that propagate peace are from Makkah – when the Muslims were barely in their hundreds – or from the early days in Medina, when Muslims were still establishing themselves as a power to be reckoned with. And as soon as they had enough power to “subdue” the non-believers by forcibly converting them or compelling them to pay taxes, voila! The commandments arrived ordering precisely that.
Apart from the plethora of hostile messages in the Quran, there are countless examples from the Sunnah and the Hadith, which encourage brutality. You have the example of the shortlist of the people to be assassinated at the Conquest of Makkah – some of which for accusations as minor as singing songs against the prophet. There are examples like that of Asma bint Marwan, Ka’b bin al-Ashraf, Uqba bin Abu Muayt, Abu Afaq, Ibn Sunayna, who were assassinated according to the prophet’s order for their satire and poetry against him.
These are all teachings and historical precedents emanating from those very scriptures wherein the ‘peaceful’ side of Islam and the prophet is dug out from. How the apologists like to deal with these facts has been described in the second part of this series of articles, as they continue to study Islam from their rose-tinted glasses.
The Taliban are the product of studying Islam and nothing but Islam; the Islamic apologists are the product of studying concepts derived from other human beings and then trying to forcibly merge them into Islamic teachings quite often to justify their lives, the lives of their ancestors and the ideological rationale of their sovereign states.
The Taliban understandably aren’t particularly fond of Muslim apologists, as asserted by Ehsanullah Ehsan, the Pakistani Taliban spokesman, following the Malala attack. They probably don’t understand how they – the Taliban: the students of Islam, who do nothing but study Islam and its scriptures and endeavor to personify them – are misapprehending the ideology, while most Muslim apologists – who quite often don’t even border on following the basic Islamic tenets – seem to understand Islam better than them. What they also don’t understand is the post-9/11 concept of Jihad, which apparently means “striving hard against your inner-self”, since the Quran and Hadith unyieldingly glorify and are brimming with rewards for those that die in a war against the infidels, while self-improvement is not quite as exalted.
The Taliban are merely striving to propagate the message of the Quran and of the prophet how it’s said to have expanded in the 7th century AD. Islam orders the true Muslims to wage war against those who spread Fitna, which is described in (2:217) as disbelieving Allah and not following his path. This basically means that the Muslims are ordered to ensure that every part of the world follows the Islamic way of life, and use violence – if need be – to ascertain Islamic supremacy. The Taliban understand the meaning and act accordingly, the Islamic scholars throughout the past 1400 years comprehend it and elaborate it accordingly in their tafsirs and literature, but the apologists are hell bent on claiming, and perhaps believing, what they want the teachings to articulate –not what they actually proclaim –at the cost of multitudinous lives.
Islam needs a massive revamp for it to become attuned with the present day, which should begin with not taking it literally as the word of a divine deity. One could then perceive the Sunnah as fitting for the political movement at the time, and mould the teachings to ensure their compatibility with the modern age. We would then have the ideology that the Muslim apologists propagate, which although is quite palatable and tranquil, it is still light years away from the original Islamic scriptures and their teachings. Till then, there is no point blaming the Taliban or other Muslim terrorist organizations for taking the Islamic teachings way too literally, because that is precisely how they were supposed to be taken, and were taken, by their ideological predecessors 1400 years ago.
Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a Pakistani financial journalist; social and religious critic who is currently working as the Editor, (Business and City) at Pakistan Today. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets @khuldune.