I’ve been Blogging the Qur’an since last May, and now that Ziauddin Sardar at The Guardian has started in on the same effort, Zahed Amanullah over at Alt.Muslim has taken notice of what I’ve been doing.
Now, I confess that I haven’t had much respect for the folks at Alt.Muslim ever since they savaged, without an ounce of substantive refutation or disagreement, the documentary film Islam: What the West Needs to Know, in which I appear. But give him credit: Zahed Amanullah, unlike the film reviewer, Zahir Janmohamed, actually does raise a substantive issue. Sort of.
It should be noted that Sardar has been beaten to the punch by Islam critic Robert Spencer, who started blogging the Qur’an on a weekly basis in May of last year. Looking at his latest entry, you’ll find a surprisingly sedate description of the selected verses scattered with varying degrees of misinterpretation (it’s not “up to Allah who believes and who doesn’t,” Robert… it’s that humans have been given free will to choose their destiny). Still, the idea of explaining the Qur’an in depth to an audience that is already predisposed to despise it is not a very efficient use of influence.
“Surprisingly sedate.” That’s rich. Instead of the expected wild-eyed rants, you see, he found me “surprisingly sedate.” I wonder if people like Zahed Amanullah are ever going to realize that CAIR and Co. have sold him and others a bill of goods about what I say and do, and how I say and do it. I so often hear from people or read, after I’ve given a talk, that I was “surprisingly” soft-spoken and reasonable. The problem with believing one’s own propaganda is that it renders one unprepared for reality.
Anyway, Amanullah’s sole example of my alleged “varying degrees of misinterpretation” of sura 10 is this: “it’s not ‘up to Allah who believes and who doesn’t,’ Robert… it’s that humans have been given free will to choose their destiny.” That refers to my gloss on sura 10:99-100, which goes like this: “If it had been thy Lord’s will, they would all have believed, all who are on earth! Wilt thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe? No soul can believe, except by the will of Allah, and He will place doubt (or obscurity) on those who will not understand.”
Well, I’m sorry, Mr. Amanullah, but that just doesn’t sound to me like an affirmation that “humans have been given free will to choose their destiny.” It sounds like just the opposite. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s consult the TanwÃ®r al-MiqbÃ¢s min TafsÃ®r Ibn “˜AbbÃ¢s, which explains the passage this way (the parts in parentheses are the text of the Qur’anic verse): “(It is not for any) disbelieving (soul to believe) in Allah (save by the permission of Allah) save by Allah’s will and given success. (He hath set uncleanness) He leaves denial (upon those) in the hearts of those (who have no sense) who do not apprehend Allah’s divine Oneness. This verse was revealed about Abu Talib. The Prophet (pbuh) was so keen that he believes, but Allah did not want him to believe.”
“Allah did not want him to believe.” Did Abu Talib have free will? Apparently not. Ibn Kathir, in commenting on the same passage, refers us to Qur’an 35:8 and 2:272, which say that Allah leads astray whom he wills, and guides whom he wills.
In fact, in early Islam there was a controversy about free will and divine sovereignty, and the Qadariyya, the upholders of free will, emerged as the losers — the heretical party. The Qur’an — and particularly the Shia in interpreting it — affirms that a person is responsible for his actions, but it also simultaneously affirms that Allah decides everything and guides everyone to truth or falsehood (“Allah leads astray those whom he wills, Qur’an 35:8). This is not quite the same thing as the proposition that “humans have been given free will to choose their destiny.” If Mr. Amanullah would care to have a discussion or dialogue about this, I’m game — and I promise him it will be a “surprisingly sedate” one.
Finally, he asserts: “Still, the idea of explaining the Qur’an in depth to an audience that is already predisposed to despise it is not a very efficient use of influence.” That is not remotely my intention. I am trying to show any and all interested parties what is in the Qur’an, and above all how mainstream Muslim interpreters and authorities have understood those contents. Mr. Amanullah has tried but so far failed to document any inaccuracies in my presentation, although I invite him to dig further, and while I appreciate his concern for whether my use of time is efficient or not, I suggest that what is much more important is the actual content of the Qur’an and its implications for the modern world. Again, if he’d like to discuss that, sedately, I’m ready.