Misconceptions and Misinterpretations of Islam in the Modern Era

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Al-Hafiz Yunus Omotayo

Introduction

Taking a look at the trajectory of Islam, a phenomenal experience evident throughout the centuries of Muslim history is the fact that, the farther Muslims moved away from the time of the classical era of the Prophet [saw] and the Righteous Caliphs, and the wider Islam became spread in the world and Muslims came in contact with foreign peoples, religions, cultures, civilizations and novel challenges, the more they faced challenges in their conceptions, interpretations and, ultimately, applications of Islam in response to those emerging cosmic challenges.

As a result, over the past centuries, Islam has been existentially made to pass through various periods of historical formation, deformation and reformation, of misinterpretation and re-interpretation, of decline and revival, and of deconstruction and reconstruction. Instructively, however, the unprecedented phenomenal proportion in which it has been, and is being, subjected to misconceptions and misinterpretations at the hands of some of its adherents and detractors alike in our modern and postmodern eras calls for critical reassessment and, of course, reinterpretation and restatement.

It is therefore in the light of the above that this piece will attempt an analytical assessment of some of the misconceptions and misinterpretations of Islam in the modern era vis-à-vis the contemporary Ahmadi Islamic revivalist thought and ideology.

Islam – Foundational Basis and Historical Construction

Islam emerged on the global scene in the seventh century A.D. as a world religion [Quran, 25: 2] and a recrystalization of the ancient Mesopotamian and Abrahamic family of religious traditions. [Quran, 5: 16, 49; 22:79]

It proclaimed a mission that seeks to actualize what it christened as ihyaa al-ardh ba’da mautihaa i.e. a revolutionary renaissance of the cosmos, of all ramifications of human intellectual, religious, social, economic and political existence [Quran, 57: 18]. Likewise, it envisions a globalization of the world order of Allah on earth [Quran, 61: 10], as well as, a realization of both terrestrial and celestial paradisiacal existence for the human race [Quran, 55: 47]. Recognizing the weak nature inherent in humanity [Quran, 4: 29], Islam set about to explain and guide mankind to the best course of human life, history and destiny [Quran, 4: 27].

Muhammad bin Abdullah, the Holy Prophet of Islam, who is represented as the Seal of the Prophets [Quran, 33: 41], is the recipient of the Holy Quran [Quran, 25:2], the Divine Scripture of Islam, which embodies the fundamentals and details of the theological teachings, the legal doctrines and legislations, as well as, the socio-political and economic principles and systems of Islam [Quran, 16: 90]. In the 23-year span of his prophetic mission at Makkah and Medinah, Muhammad [saw], through his Sunnah [Practice], proffered divinely-sanctioned model prophetic conceptions, interpretations and applications of the Quranic teachings and worldview for the Muslims [Quran, 33: 22].

Thus, consensus exists that all the theological, theosophical, jurisprudential and ideological foundations of Islam are based on Divine Scriptural and Prophetic sources that are not only logical, reasonable and rational, but are also simple, humane, comprehensive, universal, realistic and responsive to the requirements of human and cosmic needs and demands. Based on this perspective, both the Quranic and Sunnatic conceptions and interpretations of the Divine Will and Commandments therefore serve as both the primary and secondary bases, the benchmarks, against which the correctness or otherwise of any human future conception and interpretation of Islam will always have to be judged.

Consequently, at the culmination of the ministry of Muhammad [saw], the Quran proclaimed the perfection of the Islamic religion, and the completion of the Divine providence upon the Muslim world [Quran, 5:4]. Notwithstanding, however, alongside this proclamation exists the various predictions about: [1] the future misconceptions, misinterpretations and misapplications that would bedevil Islam, reducing it to a nominal existence [1], on the one hand, and on the other hand, [2] the emergence of divine religious reformers at the head of every century [2], and ultimately, the coming of the Imam Mahdi and the Promised Messiah for the global renaissance of Islam and the Muslim world of the end times. [3]

Leveraging on the available commonwealth of the perfect conceptions and interpretations of Islam given by the Holy Prophet of Islam, the early Muslim caliphates, first the Arabs, then the Persians and later the Turks set about to interfere in human history and create classical Islamic civilization. Later, in the 13th century, both Africa and India became great centers of Islamic civilization and soon thereafter Muslim kingdoms were established in the Malay Indonesian world while Chinese Muslims flourished throughout china.

However, by the nineteenth century – which we may view as virtually signaling the spatio-temporal rise of modernity – a global eclipse had dawned upon the global Muslim religion and civilization as a result of the misconceptions and misinterpretations with which Muslims and others have bedeviled Islam. What are those misconceptions and misinterpretations and would any resurgence or renaissance come after the eclipse?

Islam and the Challenges of the Modern Era 

At the time the modern era dawned upon the Muslim world, all thoughtful observers agree that Islam has been grossly misconceived and misinterpreted. Nobody dispute the fact that the prevailing conceptions and interpretations of Islam in the modern times are quite different from the Islam of the Holy Prophet’s time. Even celebrated mainstream Muslim scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries, like Sir Seyyid Ahmad Khan [1817-1898], Jamal Din Al-Afghani [1839-1897], Muhammad Abduh [1849-1905], Dr. Muhammad Iqbal [1876-1938] and Hassan Al-Banna [1906-1946] and a host of others, all confessed through their various writings that the modern Muslims have been guilty of misconceptions of Islam. To them, Islam of the modern era is a misunderstood religion!

A striking corroboration of the above observation may be seen in Faizur Rasul’s note that, “When the Muslim world was still under Western imperial control, Sir Muhammad Iqbal wrote his Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, which implies the construction of Islam by the Holy Prophet and followed by his Righteous Caliphs had been deconstructed in the course of centuries which needed reconstruction, but he gives no programme how to do that. Apparently, he and others thought jihading and gaining political independence from the West alone would do the needful. It did not. [4]

The pathology of the misconceptions and misinterpretations of Islam which acquired its widest proportion in the modern era can thus be traced to, internally, the lingering decline in the qualitative and unalloyed Islamic religious thought, faith and practice, and, externally, the challenges of the modern Western colonialism and as well as its necessary offshoot – globalization of the Western civilization. As Thomas Benjamin asserted: Western colonialism dispatched European colonialists to every inhabitable region, implanted and disseminated Christianity throughout the colonial world and exported the languages, laws, institutions, technology and values of the West to nearly all lands, peoples, and cultures worldwide. This political, economic, and cultural expansionism reshaped the non-European societies and cultures with which it came into sustained contact….. This history is not a closed and forgotten chapter without relevance to the problems and promise of today.” [5]

In this light, it can be asserted that the tremendous intellectual, religious, cultural and economic-political warfare waged by the numerous Western Colonialists, Academic Orientalists and Christian Missionaries against the totality of the Muslim world in the 19th and 20th centuries, coupled with the contemporary globalization phenomenon and the increasing tide of Islamophobia by the non-Muslim world have thus resulted into a complex conceptual and interpretative misrepresentations of Islam by both modern Muslims and non-Muslims alike. 

Consequently, the Islam we have in our modern era is such that has come with a variety of conceptually conflicting versions or brands. Thus, today, we most often read about ‘Islamism’, neo-Islamism, Salafism and neo-Salafism etc. Likewise, Islam is often prefixed with adjectives like ‘moderate’, ‘fundamentalist’, ‘radical-fundamentalist’, ‘extremist’ and ‘fanatical’ Islam and so on. AbdulFattah ibn Raji, citing Pittsburgh’s Civil Democratic Islam, distinguished four of such conflicting conceptual misrepresentations of Islam as: one, fundamentalists reject democratic values and contemporary Western culture. They want an authoritarian, puritanical state that will implement their extreme view of Islamic law and morality. They are willing to use innovation and modern technology to achieve that goal. Two, traditionalists want a conservative society. They are suspicious of modernity, innovation and change. Three, modernists want the Islamic world to become part of global modernity. They want to modernize and reform Islam to bring it into line with the age. Four, secularists want the Islamic world to accept a division of Church and State in the manner of Western industrial democracies with religion relegated to the private sphere. These groups hold distinctly different positions on essential issues that have become contentious in the Islamic world today, including political and individual freedom, education, the status of women, criminal justices, the legitimacy of reform and change, and attitudes towards the West. [6]

It is equally instructive to note that these distinct positions have not been confined to the academic sphere alone. They have found their cosmic expressions in the prevailing attitudes and situations in the modern Muslim citizenry and states. Hence, Dr. Saheed Timehin opined that the 20th century saw the birth of a conservative Saudi Arabia, a theocratic Iran, a radical Libya, a compromising Egypt and Gulf States, an authoritarian Pakistan and Sudan and a fundamentalist Afghanistan. All these are surrounded by a cosmopolitan adherence to Islam in West Africa and other parts of the world where the faith is characterized by discordant values and attitudes such as traditional piety, ignorant fundamentalism, cowardly liberalism and shameless syncretism.[7]

However, it is expedient to note at this juncture that, in line with the prophetic decree of history of Islam which prophesized the cyclical occurrence of decline and revival of the religion, it is believed that the prophecy of the grand renaissance of Islam in the modern era had found its fulfillment through the advent of the Promised Messiah and Mahdi in the person of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad [as] [1835-1908]. He established his Mahdi-Messianic movement – the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat – in 1889, which seeks to remove all the misconceptions and misinterpretations to which both the adherents of Islam and its detractors had subjected the religion, and return it to its pristine logical, reasonable, rational, peaceful, simple and humane nature which the Quran and Sunnah had earlier given it. It is compelling to note that a unique characteristic of the modern re-interpretations and restatements of Islam being advanced by the Ahmadi revivalist thought is that they are not only based on logical and rational arguments but also on acclaimed divinely-inspired insights into and expositions of the Quranic and Sunnatic teachings.

With the foregoing understanding, let us now assess the multi-various misconceptions and misinterpretations of Islam in our modern age.    

Some Major Misconceptions and Misinterpretations of Islam

Any objective assessment of the Islam of our modern era would reveal a multi-various gross misconceptions and misinterpretations that spread across almost all spectrums of Islamic theological, legal, economic-political and socio-cultural thoughts, doctrines, principles and ideologies. As such, because of this vastness, and in view of the limited space, selective discussion on some of the major concepts and issues is inevitable. Below offers a tabular presentation of our assessment.

Misconceptions in Islamic Theological Teachings

  Mainstream Muslims’ Misconceptions and Misinterpretations of Islam Ahmadi Islamic Revivalist Thoughts
A Though the most fundamental belief of Islam is belief in God; and the principal element of belief in God is belief in the Oneness [Tauhid] of God. Shirk

[associationism]

is thus very strongly repudiated. However, who could imagine that Muslim, who 1,400 years earlier had laid down their lives for the defence of the pure conception of Tauhid, would begin to worship their saints and turn towards their grave, even for daily prayers; that they would attribute knowledge of the unseen to the mortal human beings; that they would endow their holy men with privilege over the Power of God; that they would  address prayers to the dead and would make offerings over their graves; that they would credit them with miraculous presence in any place at any time; that they would sacrifice animals in the name of those other than God! Worst still, they would do all this and say it is teaching of the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet [saw]! [8]

To correct these deviations and to bring Muslims back to the true conception of the Oneness of God, Ahmadi revivalist thought re-stated and re-asserted the true Islamic conception. It refuted these un-Islamic beliefs by strong Quranic arguments. It re-affirmed the Oneness of God. God is One and the Only One. To call upon any dead person, to make offerings at the graves of the dead, to make obeisance to anyone alive or dead, to attribute distinctive divine powers or divine knowledge even to a prophet of God, to slaughter animals in the name of anyone other than God, offer anything else to achieve the pleasure of that one, to think that any man, however holy, can persuade God to grant anything – such beliefs, or tendencies to such beliefs, are compromises with the pure conception of Oneness of God which Islam has taught. [9]

B

True, there are puritanical sects among Muslims who think they are free from the least tendency to compromise with the Oneness of God. The difference between them and common Muslims is that whereas common Muslims set up many a saint and religious preceptor as equal to God, the elect among Muslim Ulema

[scholars]

set up only Jesus Christ as His equal. [1] Like common Muslims they believe that Jesus is alive in heaven. [2] They believe that Jesus could restore life to the physically dead. [3] They believe that Jesus could create like God! [10]

Ahmadi re-interpretation proved that Jesus Christ like other prophets died a natural death and was buried underground somewhere in this world. He gave spiritual life to the spiritually dead, not physical life to the physically dead. He created as any man can create. But restoring the physically dead to physical life was not for him. He could not create life out of death, with or without the permission of God. The special divine powers are special to God. They cannot be shared by Jesus Christ or any other human being. Those who compromise with the Oneness of God in different degrees, use this very defence, namely, that the divine powers they attribute to certain men have been bestowed on them by God Himself, that those men have not become deities independent of the One God. Quran establish the fact that only God can create.[11] Ahmadi thought is constructed upon several Quranic verses like 3:56; 5:118; 8:25; 13:17; 16:21; and Tirmidhiy Kitabut-Tafsir, Surah Ali Imran.

C

A very general and very widespread view among Muslims is that somehow, for some reason, God no longer speaks to human beings. The divine attribute of Takallum [speech] has become suspended. God now sees and hears but does not speak. [12] For example, Zaheer E.E. maintained that all revelations have stopped absolutely. [13] Maududi also concurred to this and declared that there is no possibility of Divine revelation in future. [14]

A strong restatement of the Islamic belief about the eternity and everlastingness of all Attributes of Allah, one of which is His Attribute of Speech. If God still hears and sees etc, then He, of necessity, still speaks. Thus, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad declared that ‘what a senseless and false belief it is that the door of revelation is regarded as closed forever, after the Holy Prophet [saw]; with no further hope for it till the Day of Resurrection…. Can such a religion be a religion, in which there is no direct realization of God ‘In this world only Islam has the quality which enables man to hold conversation with God, subject to his sincere obedience to the Holy Prophet

[saw]

. [15] God need not communicate laws and ordinances only (These have found their complete and final expressions in the revelation of the Quran).But while there are human beings in the world, and while there are those amongst us who strive with sincerity for the realization of His pleasure and act on the teaching of Islam, God must continue to favour men with His verbal assurances.[16] This is promised in Quran, 41: 31-32; 10:65.

D

Among the fundamental beliefs of Islam, belief in angels is next to belief in God. This belief also has become distorted in various ways. According to some, angels could sin. They could criticize God. In account of Adam, angels are represented as critics standing before God, urging objections of one kind or another against His scheme of creation. The story of Harut and Marut, a complete invention, has found currency in Muslim theology. It is said that God sent two angels masquerading as men. They fell in love with an evil woman. For punishment they were hung in a well, head downwards [God forbid]. It is also said, God forbid, that Iblis or Satan was a leader among angels. Another belief is that angels are physical beings engaged in crude physical activities. Against such primitive conceptions we have, at the other extreme, a complete denial of angels. Quranic teachings about angels are interpreted in naturalistic ways as representing different kinds of physical forces. Some reject that Quran was brought through Gabriel; others think belief in angels is derogatory to the Power of God. [17]

Ahmadi thought corrected these misconceptions, taught the true teachings of Islam on the subject, and removed the objections and difficulties raised by some classes over this delicate subject. It proved that angels do not commit sins. Nor do they criticize God’s plan. They do what they are commanded by God [Quran, 66:7] They are spiritual beings. They do not have to move about to go from one place to another. Their powers and functions are exercised from their own positions. It refuted the idea that Satan was one of the angels or a leader among them. Satan was an evil spirit [Quran, 18:] and a born disbeliever [Quran, 2:35]. It corrected the belief that angels are imaginary or symbols of certain physical forces. It presents angels as the spiritual means and media, God created and uses out of His eternal wisdom, in spiritual creation; He brings about physical changes through them and also spiritual changes. This does not connote defects in the Power of God. They are provided so that finite human beings with limited sensibilities can become aware of what goes on around him. [18]

E

The third fundamental belief of Islam is belief in the revealed books. In modern times, belief in revealed books has undergone distortions and misconceptions too. Some authorities believed even the present text of the Holy Quran contains evidence of human interference. Others disagreed with this but yet teach other things about the Quran that are no less obnoxious. For instance, they teach that parts of the Quran have become abrogated. If a verse or a passage is found ‘contradicted’ by another, it must be considered abrogated. According to the standard theory, a large part of the Holy Quran stands abrogated and Muslims are no longer obliged to believe in or act upon it. Some believe the Holy Quran is not completely free from the evil influence of Satan. It is said that Satan mixes up his own speech with the speech of God as it descends to a human recipient. The Quranic authority they cited is 22:53. Some have reduced the authority of the Holy Quran vis-à-vis the Hadith. The Holy Quran may deny a thing most clearly; but if a Hadith can be found which deals with the same subject it will be set above the text of the Holy Quran. Similarly, a Hadith contradictory to a Quranic assertion is often adopted. Some think that the words of the Quran need not always be read in the order in which they were recorded, that they are subjected to what is called Taqdim and Takhir, because of which the apparent order of words may be altered to reach meaning. Similarly, some deny that there is any rational order or sequence of meaning between parts of the Holy Quran, between verse and verse, chapter and chapter. Again, some have collected all the fictitious stories they could find, whether they have a bearing or not. They may be repugnant to common understanding or conscience, they may be contrary to the plain teaching of the Holy Quran, but they have been admitted into commentaries as Israelite material. The stories are attributed to saints and holy men who lived long ago and who can have no knowledge of what has since been attributed to them etc. [19]

Ahmadi thought removed all these misconceptions. By powerful arguments it proved that the Holy Quran is the Last Message, the Last Law of God for man. No part of it is abrogated. It is immune to all abrogation. What it teaches can be practiced. No part of it really contradicts any other, so that no part stands in need of abrogation. Those who spot contradiction or inconsistency in it are ignorant or feeble of understanding. They project their own lack of understanding onto the Holy Book. There can be no interpolations now extrapolations. God Himself is its Protector. He has provided both physical and spiritual means for the protection of both its meaning and text, and so neither of them can undergo any change. Ahmadi thought also proved that the Holy Quran – in fact, every kind of divine revelation – is proof against interference by Satan. It is impossible that Satan should mix his speech with the speech of God by overpowering the Prophet’s vocal apparatus or by mimicking the Prophet’s voice. It also maintained that to try and match the Hadith with the Holy Quran was an insult to the Holy Book. It amounted to the rejection of the Holy Book. If there are Hadith which contradict the Holy Quran, they cannot be true Hadith. Even the Holy Prophet of God cannot go contrary to the Word of God. The Hadith, therefore, cannot be equated with the Holy Quran. The Hadith has to occupy a place subordinate to the Holy Quran. If a Hadith contradicts any part of the Holy Quran, it deserves no attention. If, however, it is consistence with it and in accordance with it, it deserves acceptance. Ahmadi thought also refuted the theory of Taqdim and Takhir. It teaches that the words of the Holy Quran are set in the most appropriate places which cannot be altered without damaging the meaning. The beauty and variety of meaning depend on the word order adopted in the Holy Quran.  It teaches that the Holy Quran was as perfect in arrangement – arrangement of chapters, verses, and words – as it was in its thought and its language. The themes of the Holy Book are connected. It also protested against the free use of Israelite stories for an understanding of the Holy Quran. [20]

F The fourth fundamental belief taught by Islam is belief in Prophets. This belief too had decayed. Lacking rational and spiritual insight, Muslims had corrupted their belief in prophets in many strange and repulsive ways. The vile attacks which have been made on the personal character of the Holy Prophet [saw] are due to all these misconceptions about prophethood. From Adam [as] to the Holy Prophet [saw] all have been charged with transgression against the Laws of God. Noah is said to have prayed for his son when he had been forbidden to do so. Abraham is said to have lied on three different occasions. Jacob is said to have cheated his dying father and to have obtained his blessing by masquerading as his elder brother. Joseph is said to have committed adultery in his mind with the wife of the Egyptian ruler. It is said that Joseph was about to commit adultery but he saw the image of his father, Jacob, became ashamed and restrained himself. It is said also that he committed theft as a child and that he once intrigued to let his brother stay with him. Moses is said to have murdered an innocent person without cause and to have thus committed a major sin. David is said to have murdered a man in order to possess his properly wedded wife. He had to be reprimanded by God on marrying the widow of his victim. Solomon is said to have fallen in love with a pagan woman; also to have become possessed by Satan so that Satan began to rule instead of him. Affected by love of riches, he became forgetful of his duty to God. Inspecting horses he forgot his time of prayer and did not remember until after sunset. Muhammad [saw] is said to have become infatuated by Zainab, his cousin. It is said that at last God let him marry her when her divorce from Zaid had received divine sanction. It is also said that he had secret relations with a slave girl in the care of one of his wives. The wife saw them together, whereupon he was full of remorse and promised solemnly not to do it again. He also made his wife promise that she would not tell anybody. It is also said that he wished the teaching of Islam could be soften for the sake of pagan Arabs. He was willing to make concessions out of respect for their feelings. These beliefs about prophets are held by modern Muslims. They are included in commentaries and histories venerated among Muslims. [21] Ahmadi revivalist thought refuted these among other misconceptions. He stated that correct teaching of Islam on these matters for the benefit of both Muslims and others. It teaches, for instance, that the primary reason for the appearance of prophets is to promote a life of piety. They serve as example to others. If this is not one of their most important functions, why must they come at all? If all that is required is a teaching, a book of beliefs and laws, why not have books and nothing more from God? But we have had prophets and books. This entails concretization of the precepts in practice so that men should feel heartened and inspired by seeing in the flesh models of virtue and piety, and should solve their difficulties through strength derived from spiritual preceptors who are also spiritual exemplars. Ahmadi thought maintains that the many erroneous conceptions current in the modern time about the moral side of prophets were due to gross misunderstanding. The care needed to understand the revealed Word of God had not been exercised. Conclusions carelessly drawn had been handed down from generation to generation. Prophets of God are pure, sinless, and models of truth, love and loyalty. They reflect in their characters the noble attributes of God. Adam was no sinner. Abraham never lied. Joseph never resolved on any evil deed, nor did he steal or fabricate. Moses committed no murder. David did not seduce anybody’s wife. Solomon did not forget his duty to God for the love of a pagan woman or for the sake of his horses. Nor did the Holy Prophet [saw] commit any sin, great or small. The stories told about him are the inventions of hypocrites. They cannot be substantiated by canons of history or biography. They are inconsistence with the rest of his life, thoughts and sentiments. Ahmadi thought proved from the Holy Quran that all such thoughts are un-Islamic. They crept into Muslim writings through Christian influence. In Christian writings it had been the aim to enumerate the faults of prophets in general. They did this in order to prove the divinity of Jesus. Unless Jesus was absolutely without sin and other prophets were sinners to some extent, Jesus could not be proved superhuman and Godlike. But, thank God, Ahmadi thought separated the gold from the dross. The true status of prophets was re-asserted and their honour re-established, especially the honour of the Holy Prophet of Islam [saw]. [22]

Misinterpretations of Islamic religio-legal doctrines and laws 

  Mainstream Muslims’ misinterpretations Ahmadi Muslim Revivalist Thoughts
A Widespread and deep-rooted misinterpretations of Islamic teachings on freedom of belief and conscience and Islamic attitude to apostasy abound in the mainstream Muslim thought. For example, Abul Ala Maududi declared that, ‘In our domain we neither allow any Muslim to change his religion nor allow any other religion to propagate its faith’.[23] The Quranic ordinance that ‘there shall be no compulsion in religion’ is explained away as ‘This means we do not compel anyone to embrace our religion. This is true. But we must warn anyone who wishes to recant that this door is impassable to free traffic. If you wish to come, do so with the firm decision that you cannot escape’. [24] As for the penal law for apostasy, their jurists, like Abdul Qader ‘Oudah, in his Criminal Law of Islam, maintain that there are two punishments of apostasy: the one is primary punishment which is death penalty and the other is subsidiary which is the confiscation of property. [25] Maududi further elaborates that there are only two methods of dealing with an apostate. Either make him an outlaw by depriving him of his citizenship and allowing him mere existence, or end his life. The first method is definitely more severe than the second, because he exists in a state in which ‘he neither lives nor dies’. Killing him is preferable. That way both his agony and the agony of society are ended simultaneously. [26] Ahmadi thought re-states Islamic provision and advocacy for freedom of belief and conscience and maintains that Islam does not prescribe any punishment for apostasy. The punishment for apostasy lies in the hand of God Almighty, against Whom the offence has been committed. Apostasy which is not aggravated by some other crime is not punishable this world. [27] According to this thought, Surah Al-kafirun, revealed in the early period of the Prophet’s [saw] ministry, is a direct statement of policy on the subject of freedom of conscience. The Prophet [saw] was asked to tell unbelievers there was absolutely no meeting-point between their way of life and his. As they were in complete disagreement, not only with regard to the basic concepts of religion, but also with regard to its details and other aspects, there could not possibly be any compromise between them. Hence, ‘For you, your religion, for me, my religion. [Q. 109:7] Similarly, the first Medinite Surah, Al-Baqarah, in its 257th verse, also declared in the clearest pronouncement on the subject of freedom of conscience thus: ‘There shall be no compulsion in religion. Surely guidance has become distinct from error. [28] Again, freedom of conversion is the acid test of ‘no compulsion in religion’. It cannot be a one-way freedom – the freedom to enter Islam, but not to leave it. There are ten direct references to recantation in the Quran: one in the Meccan Surah of Al-nahl and the remaining nine in the Medinite Surahs. In none of these verses is there the slightest hint of capital punishment for those who recant. [29] Another reference is in Al-Nisa verse 138. It says: Those who believe then disbelieve, then believe again, then disbelieve and then increase in their disbelief will never be forgiven by Allah, nor will He guide them to the way.’ A recanter cannot enjoy the repeated luxury of believing and disbelieving if the punishment is death! [30] Ahamdis also carefully examined the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet [saw] and found no capital penalty for conversion from Islam to have been meted out by the Prophet [saw]. [31]
B It is true that Imam Ibn Taymiyyah (ra) (d.728/1328) strongly believed and adduced painstaking evidences to prove that the punishment from Sabb Allah wa Sabb al- Rasul was death, and this view was shared by the Maliki jurist, Qadi ‘Iyad al-Yahsabi (d.544/1149) [32] Our modern era has seen how the committal of Sabb Allah wa Sabb al-Rasul [blasphemy]has found Muslims from East to West, campaigning for death or corporal punishment to be meted out for its offenders.[[33] Consequently, a number of modern Muslim states and scholars have prescribed death penalty for blasphemy. Ahmadi Thought maintains that although blasphemy is condemned on moral and ethical grounds, no doubt, and it has been mentioned not less than five times in the Holy Quran [4; ; 4: ;6: ; 18: ; 63: ] but no physical punishment is prescribed for blasphemy in Islam despite the commonly held view in the contemporary world. [34] The cases of Ka’b bin Zuhayr and Ibn Zaba’ra are good examples. Both of them were gifted poets who composed satires against the Holy Prophet. [35] Similarly, the case of blasphemy committed by Abdullah bin Ubayy has been mentioned in the Quran [63:9]. In all the above cases, however, no physical punishment have been recorded against them, rather, they were all forgiven by the Holy Prophet. [36] As Sirajul Haqq noted, ‘notwithstanding all the ills of blasphemy, what the Muslim Ummah must realise is that, without becoming pacifistic about it, modern day blasphemy does not in any way threaten the existence, continuity and dynamicism of Islam as a great religion, legal system and civilisation. Thus, although it should not pass without protest from the Muslims, the protests must be academic, philosophical, dialectical and must be grounded in the common and shared values of dignity and respect for humanity. [37]
C Misinterpretations also exist with regard to the Islamic legal punishment for fornication and adultery. Again, according to Abdul Qader ‘Oudah, there are three punishement laid down in the Shariah for adultery: [1] Whipping [2] Banishment [3] Stoning to death. Whipping and banishment are punishments to be simultaneously awarded to an unmarried adulterer. Stoning to death is the punishment of a married adulterer. If the adulterer and adulteress are both unmarried, both of them shall be whipped and banished. If both of them are married, both shall be stoned to death. However, if one is married and the other unmarried, the former shall be stoned to death while the latter shall be whipped and banished at the same time. [38] Ahmadi re-interpretation posits that the punishment prescribed for adultery and fornication is hundred stripes, no distinction having been made whether the guilty persons are married or unmarried or one of the party is married and the other unmarried. Thus flogging and not stoning to death according to the Quran, 24: 3 is the punishment. Nowhere in the Quran stoning to death has been laid down as punishment for any crime however serious. Elsewhere in the Quran where punishment for adultery for a married slave-girl is mentioned [Quran, 4: 26], it is clearly stated that she will get half the punishment prescribed for that of a free, married woman; and evidently the punishment of stoning to death cannot be halved. [39] Importantly, Ahmadis carefully investigated and critically analyzed all the traditional references often advanced in support of stoning to death by its advocators and exposed the hollowness of their juristic deductions on their basis. [40]

Misconceptions of Socio-religious Doctrines and Concepts

  Mainstream Muslims’ Misconceptions and Misinterpretations of Islam Ahmadi Islamic Revivalist Thoughts
A The belief and practice of conversion of the whole humanity and the establishment of Islamic states in the world through the use of force and violence is a deep-rooted and widespread agenda in the contemporary mainstream Muslim world. Muhammad Abdussalam Faraj, citing authority of the medieval Muslim scholar, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, declared that: “the saying of the Prophet: “I have been sent with the sword”, means that Allah sent him for the call of Tawheed of Allaah by the sword after his call for it by evidence. Sowhoever does not accept the call of tawheed (the Oneness of Allaah)by the Quran, evidence and eloquence, he will be called by thesword.” [41] Similarly, Maududi insists that ‘Anyone who wants to uproot mischief and disorder from the world and wants to reform mankind should realize that he cannot do so by mere sermonizing and counseling. It is useless. He should rise against the government of false principles, he should seize power, remove the wrongdoers from author and set up a government based on sound principles and just administration.’[42] Again, he declared that ‘If their Islamic state has power and resources it will fight and destroy non-Islamic government and establish Islamic states in their place.’ [43] Ahmadi thought opines that the philosophy and true nature of Jihad is a matter both complex and subtle. Grave errors have been made both in our age and in the middle age

[of Islam]

because people failed to understand the subject. [44] The Holy Quran clearly forbids the use of force for the spread of the faith and directs its propagation through its inherent qualities and good example of the Muslims. It maintains that people should not be misled by the notion that in the beginining the Muslims were commanded to take up the sword. That sword was not taken up for the spread of the faith, but in self-defence against the enemies of Islam and for the purpose of establishing peace and security. It was no part of the purpose of taking it up to have recourse to coercion in the matter of faith. [45] Because the conditions for the Jihad with the sword do not currently exist, the Jihad with the sword is not permissible these days. [46] Ahmadiis maintain the conviction that swords can win territories but not hearts. Force can bend heads but not minds. [47]

B

Another Islamic doctrine that has been subjected to such extremist re-interpretation and radically applied is the concept of martyrdom in Islam. This is evidenced by the so-called contemporary radical Islamist-Jihadists’ martyrdom operations or suicide terrorism, or the erroneously tagged ‘Islamic martyrdom’ achieved  through the various internal civil wars or inter-state political wars being engaged in by some Muslim individuals, groups and governments in the name of Islam. This has come as a result of a major reinterpretation of the theology and religious law on martyrdom and the military jihad advanced by Shi’ite theologians and jurists in Iraq and Iran between the mid-1960s and the late 1970s.” Prominent among such Shia scholars were Ayatollah Taleqani, Dr. Ali Shariati, Nimatollah Salihi Najaf-abadi, Ayatollah Khomeini. Particularly, having invented a typology of Imam Husain’s martyrdom, which they re-interpreted as a self-imposed kind of martyrdom, they therefore went ahead to propound a new concept of martyrdom which sanctions self-annihilation, a suicide martyrdom which does not see martyrdom as shahadah i.e. a death unjustly and violently inflicted upon Muslim faithful by their opponents, but, as istishhadah i.e. one which the former personally desire for themselves. [48]

Ahmadi thought, as cited by Abdul-Hadi Babarinde, redefined the pristine meaning of a true Islamic martyr or Shaheed as the person who attains the power of steadfastness and resolve from God, that no upheaval or shock can shake him or move him from his stand. He bravely faces adversities and difficulties to the point that if, just for the sake of God, he has to give his life, then, he is given extraordinary resolve, and ever prepared to presents his head without any sorrow or disappointment. [49] It is thus obvious that the fundamentally true and ideal Islamic martyrdom as sanctioned by the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet is the one which is attained principally as a result of peaceful profession of, adherence to and advocacy for one’s faith in Allah; conditionally, because one is engaging in struggle [jihad] to defend the cause of Allah; and objectively, because one desires to establish the supremacy of the Word of Allah on earth.

Thus, we can safely conclude with full conviction that there is no valid Quranic and Prophetic evidence which provide sanction and justification for conceiving or depicting as fundamentally Islamic martyrdom (1) the deaths of Muslim soldiers, rebels and insurgents who fall in the course of political wars waged for gaining political power or other worldly objectives; (2)  the martyrdom operations or suicide terrorism being perpetrated by various so-called Muslim Jihadist/Islamist groups of Al-Qaida or the ISIS or the Al-Shabbaab and Boko Haram etc. For, really, a Jihadist may have reasons for embarking on a suicide bombing mission to kill unsuspecting, non-combatant and innocent civilians, but there can be no Islamic moral justification for such an act; and it would be grossly wrong to confuse the two: reason and justification. [50]

Misconceptions and misinterpretations of Islam in the non-Muslim World

  Misconceptions and Misinterpretations of Islam by the Non-Muslims Ahmadi Muslim Revivalist Thought
A Our modern era has seen non-Muslims, particularly Westerners and Western mass media, stereotyping Islam in a deep-rooted and widespread Islamaphobic assumptions that posit Islamic religion and civilization as not only inferior to the West – barbaric, irrational, primitive etc., but also as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism, and one engaged in ‘a clash of civilizations.’ Ahmadi thought presents a rational, peaceful, humane and tolerant Islam that encourages inter-faith dialogue, and diligently defend Islam and try to correct the misunderstanding about Islam around the globe. It advocates peace, tolerance, love, and understanding among followers of different faiths and civilizations. N Islam that firmly believes in freedom of religion and strongly rejects violence and terrorism in any form and for any reason. Hence, the popular motto of Ahmadiyya is: Love for All, Hatred for None. [51] As Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad [ra] emphasized, ‘It is clear that the allegation that Islam advocates the use of force for the spread of its ideology does not originate from a study of the sources of Islamic teachings but from a study of the conduct of some Muslim states. Now that a new era has dawned in which all the Islamic literature and traditions are available to us and the Holy Quran has been translated into so many languages – when Western scholars have direct access to the sources of Islamic teachings – their persistence in making the allegation is unjustified. They should go to the sources and study the teachings of the Holy Quran, the traditions and the conduct of the Holy Prophet, Muhammad, [saw], himself’. [52]

Conclusion

The forgoing study has, through a brief but critical analysis, reassessed the construction of the foundational basis and teachings of Islam, how they have been later misconceived and deconstructed in the modern era, and as well as the major revivalist re-interpretations and restatements of Islam being championed by the Mahdi-Messianic effort of our contemporary Ahmadi Muslim thought and movement.  Evidently, Islam is thus being reasserted as a historically dynamic religion whose inherent regenerative force has continued to position it as an ever-living, revolutionary, constructive and peaceful religious world order.  

References

  1. At-Tibrizi, Muhammad Abdullah Al-Khatib, Mishkat al-Masabih, Chapter of Knowledge, vol. 1, Hadith no 276, p. 91
  2. Abu Da’ud, Sulaiman bin Al-Ash’ath, Sunan Abu Dawud, Kitabul Malaahim,, Baab Maa Dhukira fee Qarnil Mi’ah, vol. 4, Hadith no. 4291; Beacon of Truth, [Second Edition, 2008] Nazarat Nashro Ishaat, India, p. 143
  3. Zafrullah, Muhammad Khan, Garden of the Righteous, [1996] Islam International Publications Ltd, UK, Hadith no. 1814, p. 305
  4. Faizur Rasul, Commonsense about Ahmadiyya,

[undated]

[second edition], p. 9

  • Thomas Benjamin, Encyclopedia of Western Colonialism since 1450, [First Edition, 2007], Thomson Gale, USA, Vol.1, Preface
  • Raji, AbdulFattah, ibn, Studies in Islamic Political Thought and Ideology, [2008], Jam’iyyat Junud Dinil Islamiyy, Nigeria, p. 172 
  •   Timehin, Saheed O., In Search of Peace, [2010], p.32
  • Ahmad, Mirza Bashirud-Din, Invitation to Ahmadiyya, [2009], Nazarat Nashro Ishaat, India, pp. 156-157
  • Ibid, pp. 162-163
  • Ibid, p. 158-162
  • Ibid, p. 159-162
  • Ibid, p. 170
  • Zaheer, E.E. Qadiyaniyat – An Analytical Study, p. 104
  • Maududi, A.A., Finality of Prophethood, p. 15
  • Ahmad, Mirza Ghulam, Zamimah Barahin Ahmadiyya, vol. 5, p. 183, vide: Shakil Ahmad Munir’s The Seeker can Find, [undated], p.63
  • Ahmad, Bashirud-Din, Op. Cit., pp.175-176
  • Ibid, Op. Cit., pp. 163-164
  • Ibid, Op. Cit., pp.164-165
  • Ibid, Op. Cit., p. 168-170
  • Ibid, Op. Cit., p. 170-175
  • Ibid, Op. Cit., p. 176-178
  • Ibid, Op. Cit., pp. 178-179
  • Ahmad, Mirza Tahir, Murder in the Name of Allah, [1990], Lutterworth Press, UK, p.49
  • Ibid, p. 56
  • ‘Oudah, Abdul Qader, Criminal Law of Islam, [1999], Kitab Bhavan, India, vol. 111, p.58
  • Ahmad, Mirza Tahir, Op. Cit., p.58
  • Ibid, Op. Cit., p. 92
  • Ibid, Op. Cit., p. 62
  • Ibid, Op. Cit., p. 64
  • Ibid, Op. Cit., p. 65
  • For details, readers may study: Ahmad, Mirza Tahir, The Truth about the Alleged Punishment for Apostasy in Islam, [2005], Islam International Publications Ltd, UK
  • Sirajul Haqq Khan, Freedom of Expression and Islamic Ideals, p. 9
  • Ibid, p. 10
  • Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Islam’s Response to Contemporary Issues, Islam International Publications Ltd, UK, p. 38
  • Timehin, Saheed O., In Search of Peace, [2010], p.62
  • Ahmad, Mirza Tahir, Islam’s Response to Contemporary Issues, et al, p. 39-43
  • Sirajul Haqq Khan, Op. Cit.,  p. 10
  • ‘Oudah, Abdul Qader, Op. Cit., p. 31
  • Ahmad, Mirza Bashirud-Din, The Holy Quran, English Translation and Commentary, [2002], Nazarat Nashro Ishaat, India, vol. 1V, p. 136-137
  • The details can be studied in the Ahmad, Mirza Bashirud-Din, The Holy Quran, English Translation and Commentary, [2002], Nazarat Nashro Ishaat, India, vol. 1V
  • Muhmmad Abdussalam Faraj, Jihaad – The Absent Obligation, [2000], Maktabah Al-Ansar, UK, P. 15
  • Ahmad, Mirza Tahir, Murder in the Name of Allah, Op. Cit., p. 41
  • Ahmad, Mirza Tahir, ibid, p. 15
  • Ahmad, Mirza Ghulam, The British Government and Jihad, [2006], Islam International Publications Ltd, UK, p. 3
  • Ahmad, Mirza Ghulam, Sitarah Qaisariyyah, Ruhani Khazain, vol. 15, p. 120-121
  • Ahmad, Mirza Ghulam, Haqiqatul Mahdi, p. 19; vide Mirza Tahir Ahmad’s True Islamic Concept of Jihad, [2006] Islam International Publications Ltd, UK, P. 12
  • Ahmad, Mirza Tahir, Islam’s Response to Contemporary Issues, Op. Cit., p. 31
  • Yunus, Omotayo Al-Hafiz, Martyrdom in Islam – A Brief Conceptual Clarification, www.nigeriamuslimwriters.org date assessed: 23/1/2018
  • HFS 14.12.12, cited in AbdulHadi, Babarinde Muallim’s Faith-Inspiring Stories of Ahmadi Muslim Martyrs, in: Jalsa Salana 2017 Bulletin, [2017], Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Nigeria, p.41  
  • Yunus, Omotayo, Martyrdom in Islam, Op. Cit.
  • Jalsa Salana 2017 Bulletin, [2017] Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Nigeria, p. 11
  • Ahmad, Mirza Tahir, Murder in the Name of Allah, Op. Cit., pp. 74-75

About the Writer:

Al-Hafiz Yunus Omotayo is an Imam, a Missionary of Islam and the National Secretary of the Muslim Writers’ Guild of Nigeria. [Majlis Ansar Sultanil Qalam, Nigeria] E-mail: yunus.omotayo@gmail.com; Whatsapp: +2348057437643; Facebook: www.facebook/yunusomotayo

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