Lamp of Islam articles

 

Quran

Essential methodology for understanding the Quran

Basic guidelines on how to study the Quran

Translation of an untranslatable book

Importance of holistic reading

Understanding the vague messages

When a reading of the Quran can misguide

A reading of the Quran can misguide when …

Why traditional tafsirs are unreliable

Differences among Quran-centrists

An answer to a deist’s rebuttal of the Quran

Unfolding of divine messages is like biological evolution

An answer to Jay Smith’s “Examining the Newest Historical Research on Islam …”

 

Hadith

The Quran prohibited hadiths

Hadith prohibited Hadith

The first four Caliphs prohibited hadiths

Earlier Muslims prohibited hadiths

Common sense prohibits Hadith

The Quran relates Hadith to shirk

The Quran rejects Hadith and its authority

The Quran describes Hadith as satanic revelation

The Quran exposes hadith, sunna, ijma, sharia and salaf

The Quran disapproves of all hadiths other than the Quran

Why the Prophet prohibited Hadith

How hadiths contradict science and reason

How hadiths insult and demonise the Prophet

How hadiths severely corrupted Islam

 

Observation

Hearing, sights and senses as flying birds

Meaning of ‘BIRD’ in the Quran

Where is our ‘Bird of destiny’?

Sensory perceptions in the Quran

Importance of scientific observation

The Quran calls on us to travel

Divine gifts of transport

Can scientific observation be one of the ‘pillars’ of Islam?

 

Reasoning

The Quran calls for inductive reasoning

The Quran calls for critical thinking and reasoning

 

Scientific understanding

Relationship between the Quran and science

What a doctor can learn from the Quran

An answer to Richard Carrier’s “Cosmology and the Koran”

Reading the verses on natural phenomena: A multi-layered approach

 

Science

Articles on science

 

The Oneness and the Transcendent

Why awareness of Oneness and Transcendent is so important

How rejection of Oneness and Transcendent leads to fire

All good deeds spring from the Awareness of Oneness

Will God send disbelievers to eternal hell?

Abraham’s observation of the Universe

Arguments for the existence of God

Messages in our own self

God in the Upanishads

The famous light verse

Abraham’s four birds

Hell and its duration

The Light of the Upanishads

Every kindling of fire is a reminder!

Finding God through His signs in nature

Countering the mosque-goers’ argument during the coronavirus pandemic  

Hell is temporary, heaven is unending

 

Shahada

A preface to “22 serious reasons shahada should contain no name except God’s”

22 serious reasons shahada should contain no name except God’s                

The first commandment of Islam has no name in it except God’s

La ilaha illa Allah is the only shahada found in the Quran

The Quran doesn’t authorize any added name in shahada

Islam revolves around Oneness and so should shahada

In all service we should remember only the ever-living One who never dies

We are not allowed to make distinction between the messengers

God is enough as witness that Muhammad was God’s messenger

The Quran relates the testimony ‘Muhammadur rasulullah’ to hypocrisy

The Quran links the added shahada to rejection

Pairing God with Muhammad violates holistic logic

The Quran condemns those who mention ‘others’ with God

Associating sanctified creatures with God is idolatry, the gravest offense in Islam

Extended shahada is not a requirement to be or become a Muslim

Extended shahada is not a requirement for salvation

Islam is not about any particular messenger

The Quran presaged the extended shahada as deviation

Extended shahada creates false religions by inventing secondary authorities

Sectarian shahada is based on baseless hadiths

‘Shahada hadiths’ are contradictory and confused

Sectarian shahada was a later invention

Earliest ‘dated Muslim texts’ constantly remember God but never Muhammad

The dual shahada evolved in line with an increasing idolization of Muhammad

A summary of “22 serious reasons shahada should contain no name except God’s”

Distortion of shahada evidenced by archaeology

Distortion of shahada through the political slogan of the Umayyads

 

True Islam

Islam is not about any particular messenger

The Quran calls for inductive reasoning

The Quran calls for critical thinking and reasoning

Quran, the messenger of peace and tolerance

The Quran calls for peace and tolerance: verse examples

The Quran promotes religious pluralism

The Quran promotes art and aesthetics

Pursue pleasure and happiness and mind the balance

Pollutants and evils that intruded into Islam through traditions

Book review: Abdur Rab’s “Rediscovering Genuine Islam”

 

Muhammad

The Muhammad of the Quran

True Muhammad versus false Muhammad (part-1)

True Muhammad versus false Muhammad (part-2)

Can Muhammad of hadiths be a prophet of God?

Miraj from the Book of Viraz?

Was Muhammad an epileptic?

Muhammad cartoons controversy: what does the Quran say?

A review of Dan Gibson’s Mecca vs. Petra theory

Petra has nothing to do with the origin of Islam

How hadiths insult and demonise the Prophet

Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires by Juan Cole

 

Islam vs Muhammadanism

How all the corruption in Islam started

Darood (salawat): Its origin and danger

Miraj from the Book of Viraz?

Lailatul Qadr: Night of Meditation

Who can intercede on the Day of Judgment?

What does the Quran really say about intercession?

Understanding chapter 6 from Abraham’s perspective

How hadiths insult and demonise the Prophet

Quran, the messenger of peace and tolerance

The Quran calls for peace and tolerance: verse examples

Distortion of shahada evidenced by archaeology

Zoroastrian influence on traditional Islam 

Pollutants and evils that intruded into Islam through traditions

Distortion of shahada through the political slogan of the Umayyads

Should we add sanctifying titles and phrases to the names of the messengers?

 

Pluralism

The Quran promotes religious pluralism

Meaning of COLOURS in the Quran

One light (the Truth) is split into many colours (a truth’s)

We are called to observe the colours

The famous Light Verse

Why light is one and darknesses are many

Black and White in the Quran

Various colours in the Quran

One ‘green’ with many products

God in the Upanishads

The Light of the Upanishads

Arabia: The Untold Story: a review

The Quran accepts shirk as a necessary evil

Similarity between Hindu, Christian and Muslim prayers

The story of Adam: a call for a secular, pluralistic society

Quran, the messenger of peace and tolerance

The Quran calls for peace and tolerance: verse examples

 

Islam vs rituals

Salat during the time of the Prophet

Why salat is NOT ritual prayer

The word ‘salat’ in the Quran

Miraj from the Book of Viraz?

Lailatul Qadr: Night of Meditation

Meaning of Safa and Marwah

Zoroastrian influence on traditional Islam

Why establishing the Salat means doing Works of Reform

Is praying for something or someone helpful?

 

Islamic and un-Islamic practices

The Quran never allowed wife beating

Child marriage violates the Quran

Miraj from the Book of Viraz?

Lailatul Qadr: Night of Meditation

Abortion from a Quranic perspective

Should halal slaughter be banned?

Facts about pork

Circumcision: an overview 

Should we recommend circumcision?

Is adoption prohibited in Islam?

Zoroastrian influence on traditional Islam

The Quran promotes art and aesthetics

Pursue pleasure and happiness and mind the balance

Countering the mosque-goers’ argument during the coronavirus pandemic

Halal food misconceptions

 

Salat

Salat during the time of the Prophet

Why salat is NOT ritual prayer

The word ‘salat’ in the Quran

Why QIBLA is not physical direction

Why SUJUD is NOT physical prostration

Meaning of sujud   

Change of qibla 

Does Deen have a structure?

Zoroastrian influence on traditional Islam

Why establishing the Salat means doing Works of Reform

Why the Prophet’s wartime salat was not ritual prayer

Origin and development of traditional Muslim prayer

Are all “O you who believe” verses applicable to us?

Why RUKU is not physical bowing

Why traditional PRAYER is not Quranic salat

On origin of five daily prayers: Tom Holland vs Jonathan Brown

 

Reviews and rebuttals

Arabia: The Untold Story: a review

A review of Dan Gibson’s Mecca vs. Petra theory

Petra has nothing to do with the origin of Islam

An answer to a deist’s rebuttal of the Quran

Can Muhammad of hadiths be a prophet of God?

Lands are shrinking, despite what Quran’s critics say

Does the Quran really say that the Sun sinks in a murky lake?

Book review: Abdur Rab’s “Rediscovering Genuine Islam”

An answer to Richard Carrier’s “Cosmology and the Koran”

An answer to wikiislam’s rebuttal of the Quran about ‘frontal lobe and lying’

An answer to Jay Smith’s “Examining the Newest Historical Research on Islam …”

An answer to Richard Carrier’s “Predicting Modern Science: Epicurus vs. Mohammed”

On origin of five daily prayers: Tom Holland vs Jonathan Brown

 

Same sex relationship

The story of Lot condemns xenophobic hate, not homosexual love 

The Quran doesn’t penalise homosexuality

A same sex act in itself is not a transgression

Lot’s people assaulted ‘men from other nations’

Understanding the story of Lot

Does the Quran condemn homosexuality?

The significance of ‘Nay, but’ in the story of Lot

Did Lot really offer his daughters to the rapists?

Why the traditional understanding of the story of Lot makes NO SENSE

Does Prophet Lot question only men, or both men and women?

The story of Lot: Correcting the traditional mistranslations

 

Messages in nature

Messages in physical sciences

Messages in life sciences

Messages in human sciences

Messages in our own self

Finding God through His signs in nature

 

Dialectics

Dialectics in society

Laws of historical dialectics in the Quran

Dialectical expressions in the Quran

The Universal Flux

 

Cosmos

Is there a cosmic blueprint?

The Big Bang and the origin of the Universe

The Expanding Universe

Meaning of ‘seven Heavens’

Strict balance in the expanding Universe

An answer to Richard Carrier’s “Cosmology and the Koran”

Death and rebirth of stars: a reminder

What is ‘the lowest Heaven’?

Heliocentric concepts in the Quran

Meaning of ‘seven Earths’

Mind and the Universe

What is harder to create: Man or Universe?

Man’s place in the Universe

An answer to Richard Carrier’s “Predicting Modern Science: Epicurus vs. Mohammed”

The Universal Flux

 

Solar system

Meaning of ‘seven Heavens’

What is ‘the lowest Heaven’?

Heliocentric concepts in the Quran

Meaning of ‘seven Earths’

 

Earth

Earth’s axial rotation

Earth’s orbital revolution

Earth is a spinning ball

Earth as a spaceship

Two Easts and two Wests

Meaning of ‘seven Earths’

Does the Quran really say that the Sun sinks in a murky lake?

Lands are shrinking, despite what Quran’s critics say

Mountains are passing like clouds

Earth, the great womb of evolving life

 

Evolution

Evolutionary sequence in the Quran

Man has evolved through stages

Rumi and the Quranic concept of evolution

The story of Adam confirms evolutionary origin of humans

Unfolding of divine messages is like biological evolution

What is the original material that man has evolved from?

Earth, the great womb of evolving life

 

Plants and photosynthesis

Every kindling of fire is a reminder!

One ‘green’ with many products

 

Adam

The story of Adam is a parable

The meaning of the story of Adam

Understanding the allegory of Adam

Adam is not a name of a person

Is Adam a prophet?

Creation of Adam is a constantly recurring event

How would the ‘Forces’ know about future violences?

Why Adam’s mate in the Quran has no name

Where is the garden of Adam?

How fall of Adam can be reversed

Meaning of ‘children of Adam’

The story of Adam confirms evolutionary origin of humans

The story of Adam: a call for a secular, pluralistic society

Man’s place in the Universe

The story of Adam’s two sons

 

Noah

What was the actual age of Noah

Understanding the Flood Parable of Noah

Why the flood story of Noah is similar to the Hindu flood legend of Manu

 

Abraham

Abraham’s observation of the Universe

Understanding chapter 6 from Abraham’s perspective

Abraham’s four birds

 

Jesus

Does the Quran really support the Virgin Birth of Jesus?

The spirit-bearing man who gave Mary a pure son was a real, mortal man 

 

Quranic allegories

What was the actual age of Noah

Understanding the Flood Parable of Noah

Why the flood story of Noah is similar to the Hindu flood legend of Manu

Abraham’s four birds

A lesson from the story of Aaron

The Parable of the Town in Ruins 

Does the Quran really support the Virgin Birth of Jesus?

The spirit-bearing man who gave Mary a pure son was a real, mortal man 

The story of Lot: Correcting the traditional mistranslations

The story of Lot Correcting the traditional mistranslations

In our studies on Same sex relationship, we observed that what is denounced in the story of Lot is xenophobia, inhospitality and oppression. Not homosexuality, not even sexual orientation in any form.

In some of these studies we tried a holistic reading of all the four passages, 7:80-81, 26:165-166, 27:54-55 and 29:28-29, where Prophet Lot is giving witness, four times, against his misguided nation. 

In our observation, most of the traditional translations of these verses are very poor as they are seriously distorted by hadith-based preconception and cultural conditioning, blended with deep-seated taboos about homosexuality. Millions of unquestioning Muslim minds throughout the centuries have been misguided by these prevalent misinterpretations.

With a view to rectifying these traditional mistranslations, below we present the breakdown (iraab) of these verses with a word-for-word translation. Readers are most welcome to kindly check the accuracy of our translation themselves and express their opinions.

A word-for-word translation of 7:80-81

Walootan (And Lot,) ith (when) qala (he said) liqawmihi (to his people) ata/toona (Do you commit) alfahishata (an outrage) ma (not) sabaqakum (has exceeded you) biha (therein) min (any) ahadin (one) mina (among) alAAalameena (the nations?) 7:80

Innakum (for you really)1 Iata/toona (approach) alrrijala (men) shahwatan (with desire) min (from) dooni (besides) alnnisa-i (women?) bal (Nay, but)2 antum (you are) qawmun (a people) musrifoona (who transgress the limits) 7:81

And Lot, when he said to his people: Do you commit an outrage such as no one among the nations has exceeded you therein,/ For you really approach men with desire in preference to women? NAY, BUT (No, instead,) you are a people who transgress the limits. 7:80-81

A word-for-word translation of 26:165-166

Ata/toona (Do you approach) alththukrana (the males) mina (of) alAAalameena (the nations?) 26:165

Watatharoona (And you leave) ma (what) khalaqa (created) lakum (for you) rabbukum (your Sustainer) min (of) azwajikum (your mates?) bal (Nay, but) antum (you are) qawmun (a people) AAadoona (hostile, aggressive) 26:166

Do you approach the males of the nations?/ And you leave what your Sustainer created for you of your mates? NAY, BUT (No, instead,) you are a people hostile, aggressive. 26:165-166

A word-for-word translation of 27:54-55

Walootan (And Lot,) ith (when) qala (he said) liqawmihi (to his people) ata/toona (Do you commit) alfahishata (an outrage) waantum (while you) tubsiroona (see clearly?) 27:54

A-innakum (Do you really)3 lata/toona (approach) alrrijala (men) shahwatan (with desire) min (from) dooni (besides) alnnisa-i (women?) bal (Nay, but) antum (you are) qawmun (a people) tajhaloona (who act ignorantly) 27:55

And Lot, when he said to his people: Do you commit an outrage while you see clearly?/ Do you really approach men with desire in preference to women? NAY, BUT (No, instead,) you are a people who act ignorantly. 27:54-55

A word-for-word translation of 29:28-29

Walootan (And Lot,) ith (when) qala (he said) liqawmihi (to his people) innakum (You really) lata/toona (commit) alfahishata (an outrage) ma (not) sabaqakum (has exceeded you) biha (therein) min (any) ahadin (one) mina (among) alAAalameena (the nations) 29:28

A-innakum (Do you really) lata/toona (approach) alrrijala (men) wataqtaAAoona (and you cut off) alssabeela (the highway) wata/toona (and commit) fee (in) nadeekumu (your gatherings) almunkara (evil?) … 29:29

And Lot, when he said to his people: You really commit an outrage such as no one among the nations has exceeded you therein./ Do you really approach men, and you cut off the highway and commit evil in your gatherings? … 29:28-29

***********************************

Note 1

Please note how the two questions in 7:80-81 together form a single POLAR question: Do you commit an outrage such as no one among the nations has exceeded you therein,/ For you really approach men with desire in preference to women? While the first question is answered in the affirmative in 29:28, the second one is RECONFIRMED AS A QUESTION by its recurrence in 27:55 (also 26:166) and then its subsequent negation. ‘Bal’ in all its three recurrences in the story of Lot invariably follows questions. There is no reason why “For you really approach men with desire in preference to women? … 7:81” shouldn’t be a question, as a continuation of the question in its preceding verse. The same applies for “Do you really approach men with desire in preference to women? … 27:55” (note its similarity with 7:81) and “And you leave what your Sustainer created for you of your mates? … 26:166” (it is absurd to believe that they will leave their own partners in search for love in ‘the males of other nations, 26:165’). Thus the first part of 7:81 (“for you really approach men with desire in preference to women?”) is NOT a statement of fact but a question, which is causally connected with the question in its previous verse. Unfortunately, only a few translators, like Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar, Mohammad Shafi, George Sale and John Medows Rodwell, rightly comprehended it as a question (note two of them are non-Muslims). While only a few others, like Yusuf Ali, A.L. Bilal Muhammad et al, Syed Vickar Ahamed and Muhammad Ahmed Samira, correctly grasped it as causally connected with the question in its previous verse.

Note 2

In the three instances where the word ‘BAL’ (‘No, instead’) occurs in the story of Lot (7:80-81, 26:165-166, 27:54-55), many people incorrectly translate the word to ‘indeed’. This could be partly the result of some groups trying to force a political agenda into the Quran, among various other reasons. However, translating to indeed doesn’t make sense in any other occurrence of the word ‘bal’ in the Quran. Other translations seem to miss this word entirely, and even some of the translations that traditional Muslims use to try to condemn the LGBT community use ‘no’, ‘nay’ or ‘rather’. They fail to notice that the sentence structure of the related verses doesn’t support their claim at all. For further reading: The significance of ‘Nay, but’ in the story of Lot.

Note 3

‘Inna’ means surely, really, indeed etc. For rationale behind translating ‘A-innakum’ in 27:55 as ‘Do you really’ (and ‘ata/toona … Innakum’ in 7:80-81 as ‘Do you commit … for you really’), please see: a-inna 26:41; a-innā 37:36, 37:16, 13:5, 17:49, 17:98, 27:67, 32:10, 37:53, 56:47, 79:10, 23:82; a-innaka 12:90, 37:52; and a-innakum 41:9, 6:19, 29:29, 27:55.

On origin of five daily prayers: Tom Holland vs Jonathan Brown

On origin of five daily prayers Tom Holland vs Jonathan Brown


Question
: Will you please shed some light on the article Tom Holland, the Five Daily Prayers and the Hypocrisy of Revisionism by Dr Jonathan Brown who rebuts the theory put forth by Tom Holland with seemingly strong evidence?

Answer: I went through Jonathan Brown’s article previously and now read it again. What he basically says is that, regarding the origins of the five daily prayers, Tom Holland’s source (Rav Yehudai) is unreliable but Muwatta of Malik Ibn Anas, the eighth century collection, is reliable.

In my humble opinion, it is difficult to be sure about it. This issue has been deliberated in our discussion Origin and development of traditional Muslim prayer. As noted in this discussion, “… Then some other studies suggest that Muslim prayer was influenced by Zoroastrian traditions in a much later period, probably during the Abbasid reign, when, in line with several other adjustments, prayers were switched from earlier two to three to Zoroastrian five times a day. For example, according to Tom Holland, the five daily prayers were actually imported into the Islamic tradition from Zoroastrianism well after the death of Muhammad and after the Muslims had conquered the greater Middle East. Holland argues that, in the mid eighth century, Zoroastrian converts to Islam in southern Iraq, especially Zoroastrian priests or mowbeds in Kufa, brought with them five daily prayers from their own religion. In support of his claim, he cites the observation allegedly made by Rav Yehudai, a Jewish scholar of that time living near Kufa. Yet, mainly because of the incomplete written record and a shortage of verifiable historical data on the exact origin and development of the ritual prayer practiced by the earlier Muslims, it remains difficult to be certain to what extent all the above conclusions are factual or not.”

Another extract from our discussion: “Question: Some people cite Muwatta of Malik Ibn Anas, the eighth century collection, to prove that the earliest Muslims used to pray the way they pray today. What do you think about it? Answer: If the dates reported about Muwatta Imam Malik are correct, then Muwatta was compiled by Imam Malik towards the end of the eighth century (779-795 CE, 163-179 AH), i.e. during the early Abbasid period, allegedly at the request of the Abbasid Caliphs al-Mansur and Harun al-Rashid. As the above link suggests, Imam Malik was instructed to follow specific guidelines set up by the authority of Caliph al-Mansur himself, who was particularly notorious for oppression of Islamic scholars and muting of all the dissenting voices. This state-sponsored suppression of the differing Islamic schools, and the expected annihilation of their works, can largely explain the sole, uncontested existence of the officially standardised version of the Muslim ritual prayer and the resulting conformity as we find it today. It is important to note that the Abbasid period, starting from al-Mansur, was marked by its reliance on Persian bureaucrats and its adoption of Persian customs and Zoroastrian traditions1. Harun al-Rashid’s administration was virtually controlled by the Barmakid Persians.”

But the actually important question is: Does the Quran mention 5 daily prayers? If it doesn’t, then why it doesn’t? And if it does, then why do we need a report by Muwatta?

Also, how can we rely on the veracity of Muwatta itself, a source that contains hadiths like the following?:

  • Ibn ‘Umar reported Allah’s Messenger (sa) as saying that a non-Muslim eats in seven intestines whereas a Muslim eats in one intestine. Muwatta 49:9 and 49:10
  • Narrated Abdullah ibn Umar: The Messenger of Allah said: When a jew greets you, and says ‘Death to you’ (as-samu alaykum), say, ‘And to you.’ Muwatta 53:3
  • Yahya related to me from Malik from Abdullah ibn Abi Bakr ibn Muhammad ibn Amr ibn Hazm from his father that in a letter which the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, sent to Amr ibn Hazm about blood-money he wrote that it was one hundred camels for a life, one hundred camels for a nose if completely removed, a third of the blood-money for a wound in the brain, the same as that for a belly wound, fifty for an eye, fifty for a hand, fifty for a foot, ten camels for each finger, and five for teeth, and five for a head wound which laid bare the bone. Muwatta Book 43, Number 43.1.1.
  • Elsewhere, the blood-money for cutting the fingers of a woman is to pay her: 10 camels for one finger; 20 camels for two fingers; 30 camels for three fingers, and 20 (twenty) camels for four fingers. Muwatta Book 43, Number 43.11.6d

Jonathan Brown’s reliance on other hadith hearsays, written during the later Abbasid period (incl. Bukhari, Muslim and Tirmidhi), makes his arguments further weaker. And so is his reliance on T’ung tien, a Chinese Tang court work that was published in 801 CE (during the Abbasid period), which contains a description by a soldier seeing people praying five times a day in Kufa of the mid eighth century. This, based again on hearsay, however, doesn’t really negate the argument of Tom Holland that Zoroastrian converts to Islam in southern Iraq, especially Zoroastrian priests or mowbeds in Kufa, brought with them five daily prayers from their own religion in the mid eighth century.

Related articles:

Origin and development of traditional Muslim prayer

A response to Dr Jonathan Brown on the five daily prayer

***********************************

Note 1

Tom Holland observes, “What makes the lack of any reference (in the Quran) to 5 prayers a day all the more striking is that instructions on how and when to pray are part of the very fabric of the qur’anic text: salat was clearly of huge importance to the author(s) of the Qur’an, and it seems odd, if indeed the practice of praying 5 times a day did begin with Muhammad, that there should have been no mention of it at all.

So where, then, might it have originated? Zoroastrianism seems to me the likeliest source, simply because the obligation to pray 5 times a day was fundamental to it in a way that it was not for other faiths – and because Persian influence on proto-Islam in the 8th century, when the Sunna first seems to have developed, was so profound. That is not to say, though, that there might not have been different inspirations as well. It is evident that there were numerous varying opinions in the early years of Islam as to how many prayers there should be. As Dr Brown himself points out, the Hanafis argued that there should be six, not five, daily prayers, while a hadith in Bukhari implies that originally there had been no less than fifty! Over time, though, the preference for praying five times a day seems to have ended up attaining critical mass – and I am certainly not alone in wondering whether the sheer volume of Zoroastrian converts to proto-Islam might not have been the decisive factor.” A response to Dr Jonathan Brown on the five daily prayer

The story of Adam’s two sons

The story of Adam’s two sons

Not a historical account, but a parable of the ancients

People of the ancient, as Karen Armstrong observed, often expressed their concepts in the language of myth. So, expectedly, their scriptures also contained legends, parables and allegories, many of which simply illustrate enlightening and ethical points without necessarily implying any physical or historical fact.

A well-studied case in this regard is the Pentateuch (Torah) that frequently borrows contents from the earlier Babylonian mythology and other ancient sources. Often these contents occur as parables which deliver various moral lessons and are not meant to be understood literally as real or historical accounts1.

The story of Adam’s two sons, Cain and Abel, mentioned in Genesis iv 1-16, is a good example of such Pentateuchal parables derived from ancient mythology.

The TRUTH of ‘the story of Adam’s two sons’

The Quran briefly re-narrates this parable of the Old Testament in its own way2:

O you who acknowledge, be upright with equity, as witnesses to God (’s oneness), and let not the hatred towards a people make you deviate from justice. Be just, for it is closer to awareness, and be aware of God. God is fully Aware of what you do. 5:8 …

O people of the Book, Our messenger has come to you to clarify for you much of what you were concealing from the Book, and to pardon over much. A light has come to you from God and a clarifying Book. 5:15 …

Recite to them the TRUTH of the story of the two sons/descendants of Adam/human. Behold! they each presented a sacrifice: It was accepted from one, but not from the other. He said: “I will kill you!” He said: “God only accepts from the righteous.” 5:27

“If you stretch your hand to kill me, I will not stretch my hand to kill you, for I am conscious of God, the Sustainer of all the worlds.” 5:28

“I would rather have you carry two violations, mine as well as yours. For, you will be among the dwellers of the fire. That is the reward for the wrongdoers.” 5:29

But the other’s ego/passion drove him to slaying his brother; so he slew him: and thus he became one of the losers. 5:30

So God sent forth a raven to scratch the land and show him how to cover the body of his brother. He said: “Woe to me! Am I not even able to be like this raven and cover the body of my brother?” So he became of those who regretted. 5:31

It is because of this that We ordained unto the children of Israel: “Anyone who kills a person for other than murder or spreading horrendous/bloody crimes on Earth, then it is as if he has killed all mankind! Whoever spares a life, then it is as if he has given life to all mankind.” Our messengers had come to them with clarities, but many of them are, even after this, still corrupting on Earth. 5:32

As relevant to an issue raised in an earlier verse (“O people of the Book, Our messenger has come to you to clarify for you much of what you were concealing from the Book …”, 5:15; cf. 5:12-14, 18-19), here the Quran retells to the Judaeo-Christian listeners this story of their own, mainly to remind them of its important moral (“Recite to them the TRUTH of the story …”, 5:27). Thus, rather than validating this Biblical parable as a historical event, here the Quran is mostly concerned about confirming its ‘TRUTH’, i.e. the moral which ‘the people of the Book’ have been “concealing from themselves” (5:15).

This truth/moral is then summarized at the end: “Anyone who kills a person for other than murder or spreading horrendous/bloody crimes on Earth, then it is as if he has killed all mankind! Whoever spares a life, then it is as if he has given life to all mankind.” 5:32. This echoes a famous Talmudic message3 which, in one sense, goes further than the Biblical “Thou shall not kill” because it also encourages action to save life.

Please note how the phrase ‘ALL MANKIND’, used twice in 5:32, attaches a generic connotation to the ‘two sons of Adam’ to signify ALL MANKIND in its righteous and evil trends. Thus, if Adam is an emblematic character that represents all humans, then ‘two sons of Adam/human’ simply symbolise humankind in its two opposite trends. In other words, these ‘two sons’ are not ‘biological sons’ of Adam/human, they are ‘spiritual descendants’ in terms of ‘from mankind’. In the Quran, the story is about attitude. It relates to envy and wrath being human traits, which should be controlled.

A few points to ponder

In the above account, there are a few points to ponder:

The context of this parable is centred on justice and equal human rights. For example: “Be upright with equity, as witnesses to God’s oneness, and let not the hatred towards a people make you deviate from justice. Be just …, 5:8” (cf. 5:2)4. The succinct formulation of the context itself fully explains the reason why this moral story of the ancients is being re-narrated.

The unjust murder of any human is an abomination. Here the Quran categorically condemns the unjust murder of any human while it clearly defines what is ‘unjust murder’ (“who kills a person for other than murder or spreading horrendous/bloody crimes on Earth”, 5:32). In line with this spirit, it emphatically highlights the instruction “Do not kill” as one of the most important divine commandments (6:151-152) and unequivocally denounces any act of hatred, aggression, corruption, homicide and mischief on Earth (2:11, 2:60, 2:190, 5:2, 5:32, 7:33, 7:56, 7: 74, 13:25, 16:90, 26:151-152,  26:183, 27:48-49, 28:77, 42:42, 47:22 -23).

Killing a human without justice is equivalent to killing all of humanity. The moral of this story equates the unjust, intentional murder of a human with the murder of the whole mankind (5:32), since disregard for a single human life is disregard for human life in general as it violates the basic principle of the oneness of humanity, which is based on the oneness of God (note: “Be upright with equity, as witnesses to God’s oneness.” 5:8; cf. 5:2). The expression “We ordained unto the children of Israel” does not, of course, detract from the universal validity of this moral: it refers merely to its earliest enunciation.

Sparing a life is equivalent to giving life to all of humanity. The moral of this story equates the saving of a life with the giving of life to the whole mankind (5:32), since regard for a single human life is regard for human life in general as it promotes the basic principle of the oneness of humanity, which is based on the oneness of God.

Non-violence is a higher virtue. When Cain “stretched his hand” to kill Abel, Abel refused to “stretch his hand” to kill his brother, but rather took an approach of peace and non-violence (5:28-29). Though the Quran bypasses the Biblical names Abel and Cain (Genesis 4:1-25) as irrelevant or unimportant, it denounces the atrocity of Cain and admires the perseverance of Abel. Thus it teaches non-violence as a higher morality.

Life for a life, as a punishment, is not always the best solution. Cain had just killed his brother due to ego/satanic passion (5:30) and latter regretted his crime, as predicted by his brother: “you carry two violations, mine (slaying me) as well as yours (violating your own peace, 5:29-31)”. He was punished with mental suffering, but not with death sentence. In Genesis, God punished Cain to a life of restless wandering, but set a mark on him so that no man would kill him. If it is always obligatory to slay for murder then why was Cain not allowed to be slain? The parable promotes against capital punishment.

The default is good, not evil. Let us think about the incident in the Quran once again. Abel refuses to fight Cain. Cain gives in to jealously but repents. As Azra Bano observes, “Human beings are competitive achievers. And for that they stoop low at times. But overwhelmingly all human beings support truth and justice. So the default is good, not evil. We deviate from it regularly, but it is only to recognize it as the wrong path.”

Summary

The story of Adam’s two sons is a Biblical parable derived from ancient mythology. Rather than validating it as a historical event, the Quran retells to the Judaeo-Christian listeners this story of their own, mainly to remind them of its important moral, i.e., “Killing a human without justice is equivalent to killing all of humanity. And sparing a life is equivalent to giving life to all of humanity.”

As Adam is an emblematic character that represents all humans, ‘two sons of Adam/human’ simply symbolise humankind in its two opposite trends. In this story, there are a few points to ponder, including: ● The context of this parable is centred on justice and equal human rights. ● The unjust murder of any human is an abomination. ● Non-violence is a higher virtue. ● Life for a life, as a punishment, is not always the best solution. ● The default is good, not evil.

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Note 1

Scriptures, all scriptures, are in a highly classical literary language that is laden with symbols and metaphors. “We believe Scriptures stand as masterpieces of classical literature. Too often their script is in purely metaphoric style, laced with allegories, similes and idioms. These texts are never to be translated literally. Once we rule out a literal translation of these texts, we start capturing the essence of their message in its true light.” (paraphrased from Aurangzaib Yousufzai). Even Paul the Apostle in his ‘The Epistle to the Galatians’ gives an interpretation of the story of the two sons of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael (Genesis 16-17, 21), labelling it an allegory. Leonie Frisby reminds: “You are reading your Bible wrongly! Can a 90 year old woman have a baby? NO! Can a virgin give birth to a child? NO! Was the story of Adam with Eve being created from Adam’s rib literal too? NO! The Bible clearly tells you “not to be a minister of the letter, but to be a minister of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (i.e., do not take the scripture literally, 2 Corinthians 3:6). The Bible is all about symbology.”

Note 2

The Quran is not a textbook of history, but is a social and spiritual guide for mankind. Thus it re-narrates, idiosyncratically, many parables or mathal of earlier generations – i.e. ancient myths, legends, allegories and educational stories – which are mainly to deliver a range of deeper messages with moral lessons and therefore are not meant to be understood literally as real or historical accounts (7:176, 11:120, 12:7, 12:111, 15:75,  17:89, 18:54, 23:30, 24:34-35, 25:33, 29:41,43, 39:27, 54:15, 59:21; cf. 3:3-7; 5:27). All these parables describe events continuously happening within us and within our ongoing reality. Hence, there is an insistent emphasis that we understand them figuratively in order to get their true, deeper meanings, veiled under their literal coverings (7:176, 11:120, 12:111, 14:25, 15:75, 17:89, 56:77-79, 59:21, 71:7, 83:13-14).

Note 3

The moral in 5:32 echoes the following Talmudic verse: “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9; Yerushalmi Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 37a. For the Biblical version of the story of Adam’s two sons, see Genesis 4:1-25; Joshua 15:57; Hebrews 11:4; 1 John 3:12; Jude 1:11.

Note 4

The context of this story is centred on justice and equal human rights: O you who acknowledge, be upright with equity, as witnesses to God (’s oneness), and let not the hatred towards a people make you deviate from justice. Be just, for it is closer to awareness, and be aware of God. God is fully Aware of what you do. 5:8; cf. And let not the hatred of another people, because they had barred you from the inviolable project of peace (masjid al-haram), tempt you to aggress. And bond together in virtue and awareness, and do not bind together in evil and enmity; and remain aware of God, for God’s law of requital is strong in grasping. 5:2

Why traditional PRAYER is not Quranic salat

Why traditional PRAYER is not Quranic salat

1. If traditional PRAYER (hadith-based ritual prayer)1 is the same as the Quranic salat, then why does the Quran condemn the common features of such prayer, like mindless glibness, robotic actions and public display, while emphasizing the importance of a conscious state of mind and understanding the messages during salat ( (4:43, 4:142, 5:91, 8:35)?

2. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, and salat is for implementing God’s reminder (dhikr Allah) in real life, which is truly important (20:14, 29:45), then why does the traditional prayer require reciting words and hamds not found in God’s reminder/Quran?

3. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, then why do the salat names like Dhuhr, Asr, Magrib etc do not exist in the Quran?

4. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, then why is the Witr prayer, a wajib prayer, not found in the Quran?

5. If traditional prayer equals the Quranic salat, then why is the corrupted sectarian Adhan not mentioned in the Quran?

6. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, then why is washing of body parts three times in wudu/ghusl not an instruction in the Quran?

7. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, then why is head covering for men and women during prayer not a requirement in the Quran?

8. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, then why is using a prayer mat not an instruction in the Quran?

9. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, then why is the physical prostration towards a stone house – thus also prostrating towards a meteorite (The Black Stone) – not an instruction in the Quran?

10. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, then why is the phrase Allahu Akbar, uttered repeatedly in prayer, not found in the Quran2 (Allah in the Quran is al-Kabeer, not Akbar)?

11. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, then why is reciting the Sanaa not an instruction in the Quran?

12. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, then why is reciting the Fatiha in every rakat not an instruction in the Quran?

13. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, then why is uttering Ameen after the Fatiha not mentioned in the Quran?

14. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, then why are the Dhuhr and the Asr prayers performed in silence, which blatantly violates the traditionally understood instruction in 17:110?

15. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, then why is uttering “Subhaana Rabbi Al-A’laa” and “Subhaana Rabbi Al-Azeem” not mentioned in the Quran?

16. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, then why is uttering “Samialah huliman hamida” not mentioned in the Quran?

17. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, then why are the concepts rakat, the numbers of rakats and the sequence of the postures absent in the Quran?

18. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, then why is reciting Attahiyat at the end of the prayer not an instruction in the Quran?

19. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, then why is raising index finger in Tashahhud not an instruction in the Quran?

20. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, then why is reciting Darood on Abraham, Muhammad and their family in prayer not an instruction in the Quran?

21. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, then why is reciting Dua e masoora not an instruction in the Quran?

22. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, then why is reciting dua qunoot in the Witr prayer not mentioned in the Quran?

23. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, then why is saying Salams on left and right at the end of prayer not an instruction in the Quran?

24. If traditional prayer is Quranic salat, then why does the Quran negate the notion of qada where one can compensate a missed salat by praying on a later time? Why does it rather remind that one can restore the lost salat only by doing works of reform, and NOT by doing prayer (19:59-60)?

Related articles:

Origin and development of traditional Muslim prayer

Salat during the time of the Prophet

Why establishing the Salat means doing Works of Reform

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Note 1

Sadly, the traditional Muslim prayer as practised today is a mindless magical ritual developed over time mimicking the original salat, by annexing to it certain repetitive mechanical movements and robotic chanting, mostly devoid of any real sense or benefit, while entirely overlooking the quintessence of salat and its actual objective. Even hadith hearsays ‘observed’ how the original salat was transmuted after the time of the Prophet’s Companions: Narrated Ghailan: Anas bin Malik said, “I do not find (now-a-days) things as they were (practiced) at the time of the Prophet.” Somebody said, “The prayer (is as it was)”. Anas said, “Have you not done in the prayer what you have done?” Bukhari 529, V1, B10, no. 507; http://sunnah.com/bukhari/9/8. Another hadith: Narrated Az-Zuhri that he visited Anas bin Malik at Damascus and found him weeping and asked him why he was weeping. He replied, “I do not know anything which I used to know during the life-time of Allah’s Apostle except this prayer which is being lost (not being offered as it should be).” Bukhari 530, V1, B10, no. 507, http://sunnah.com/bukhari/9/9.

Note 2

The traditional Muslim motto “Allahu Akbar” is an extra-Quranic mantra that had its first physical appearance (in a dated Muslim coin) as a military slogan during the Umayyad period of Arab expansion. Now, whether we understand the word akbar in “Allahu Akbar” as the comparative or superlative degree of kabeer, in both cases we end up comparing God with other entities. Thus akbar cannot be applied to God who, by definition, is high above all comparison. This explains why the Quran never uses akbar as an adjective of God. Even not in the verses sometimes quoted where ‘Allah’ is seemingly followed by ‘akbar’: waridwanun mina Allahiakbaru (but the acceptance from God is greater). 9:72; walathikru Allahi akbaru (but certainly the remembrance of God is greater). 29:45; lamaqtu Allahi akbaru min maqtikum anfusakum (Indeed, God’s abhorrence towards you is greater than your abhorrence of yourselves). 40:10. In none of these instances the word akbar is used as an adjective/qualifier of God. All divine names/attributes in the Quran are in the perfect form, preceded by ‘the’ (‘al’). In line with this trend, the Quran calls God as al-Kabeer (the Great; 13:9, 22:62, 34:23, 40:12, 31:30; cf. Kabeer in 4:34, but preceded by ‘kana’) and al-Mutakabbir (the Possessor of all greatness, 59:23).

Why RUKU is not physical bowing


Why RUKU is not physical bowing

1. If RUKU (heed, consent, incline, humble oneself)1 means physical bowing in a ritual salat, then why does the Quran describe the people who ‘ruku’ as those who HEED the message, i.e., those who acknowledge, establish the communication and contribute towards betterment (5:55)2?

2. If ruku means ‘bow in salat’, then why is it mentioned in 2:43 after zakat instead of after salat (in a sequence of salat, zakat and ruku)? In other words, if we want to read ruku to mean a physical action and so we understand ruku as ‘bow in salat’, then why shouldn’t we also add ‘bow in zakat’ to it as well (which makes both ‘bow in salat’ and ‘bow in zakat’ nonsensical)?

3. If ruku means physical bowing that should be followed by sujud, then why does ruku occur in 3:43 after sujud, and not the other way round?

4. If ruku means physical bowing as one of the postures of ritual salat, then why does 5:55 mention it after zakat instead of after salat (in a sequence of salat, zakat and ruku), without mentioning any other posture? Then why does ruku have to be connected to salat and not zakat?

5. If ruku means physical bowing as part of a ritual salat, then why do salat, zakat and ruku in 2:43 and 5:55 occur separately, in a sequence of three different concepts, without merging ruku into the corpus of salat?

6. If ruku means physical bowing as part of a ritual sequence, then why are the Children of Israel asked to join others in ruku only, but not in sujud or other physical postures (2:43)? 

7. If ruku means physical bowing as part of a ritual sequence, then why is Mary asked to join others in ruku only, but not in sujud (in a sequence of sujud and ruku, 3:43)?

8. If ruku means physical bowing, then, in 2:43 and 5:55 where ruku is mentioned after zakat instead of after salat, how can we just decide that ruku is a part of salat, but zakat is not? And why don’t we give zakat at the same time we perform ‘salat’?

9. If ruku means physical bowing, then why does sujud in 2:125, 22:26 and 48:29 occur only as a qualifier (adjective) of ruku, rather than as another action, separated from it by wa (“and”)?

10. If ruku is a ritual posture, along with other postures like sujud, in the series of instructions in “heed (irka`oo) and comply (usjudoo) and serve (abudoo) your Sustainer and do (ifaloo) good. 22:77”, then which postures or actions of ritual are represented by the words ‘abudoo’ and ‘ifaloo’?

11. If ruku is a ritual action, along with other ritual actions like sujud, in the series of references to virtues in “those who turn around (taiboon), serve (abidoon), praise (hamidoon), journey (sa-ihoon), heed (rakiAAoon), comply (sajidoon) and command decency and forbid evil and keep within God´s limits. 9:112”, then which ritual actions are referred to by the words ‘taiboon’, ‘abidoon’, ‘hamidoon’, ‘sa-ihoon’ and so on?

12. If ‘falling into the state of ruku’ in 38:24 refers to a physical act, then why shouldn’t its immediately following verb turning/returning (anāba) also refer to a physical act, instead of being universally understood as non-physical?

13. If ruku means physical bowing, then how can the deniers be even asked to do it in such an allegorical description as in 77:47-48?

14. If ruku means physical bowing essential for ritual salat, then what is the significance of doing multiple rukus in one ‘salat’, when the Quran totally overlooks it as unimportant?

15. If ruku means physical bowing, then how do we reconcile it with the fact that its related word sujud cannot mean physical prostration in so many instances? Then how do we avoid the conclusion that these words in the Quran do not primarily refer to physical actions, but their general understandings (ruku = heed, sujud = comply)3 and that their physical renderings were imposed in the past, un-Quranically, by the ritualised traditions?

16. If ruku means physical bowing, then why doesn’t this meaning precisely fit into any of all the 13 Quranic occurrences of its root word ra-kaf-ayn, not even in a single instance? And why does understanding ruku as non-physical remain consistent in all occurrences, while rendering it as physical bowing often creates logical contradictions4?   

Related articles:

Why SUJUD is not physical prostration 

Why establishing the Salat means doing Works of Reform

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Note 1

The primary meaning of ruku as heeding can be inferred from the following analogy: While 77:46-48 states that the guilty (mujrimoon) do not ‘ruku’ when they are asked to ‘ruku’, 37:34-36 clarifies that the guilty (mujrimoon) arrogantly ignore listening to the message of oneness when it is said to them. When we compare these two passages, it becomes clear that, as the opposite concept of ignoring or disregarding, ruku essentially means heeding and, more specifically, heeding God’s messages. Please read the passages: “Eat and enjoy for a little while, you the guilty.”/ Woe on that day to those who lied./ And when they are told to heed (irka’au) they do not heed (laa yar ka’uun). 77:46-48; This is how We deal with the guilty./ For when it was said to them, la ilaha illa allah, they revealed arrogance./ And said: What! Shall we give up our gods for the sake of a poet possessed? 37:34-36

Note 2

Here the Quran directly identifies the people who ‘ruku’ as those who HEED the message: Only your ally is God, His messenger and those who acknowledge, who establish the communication, and contribute towards betterment, and/it is they who heed (RUKU). 5:55. Please note that here ruku cannot mean physical bending. We need to consider the defining and explaining function of ‘wa’ in “wahum rākiʿūn” in this specific context. Here a series of verbs describing attributes is followed by an eventual shift to their noun rākiʿūn, which appears in the specifying phrase “wahum rākiʿūn” (“and/it is they who are rākiʿūn”), where ‘they’ clearly refers to “those who acknowledge, who establish the communication, and contribute towards betterment”. Similar defining and explaining function of ‘wa’ in “wahum rākiʿūn” can be observed in other instances where verbs describing attributes explain the noun of these verbs, e.g.: The ones who hinder from the path of God and seek to distort it, and/it is they (wahum) who are the rejecters of the akhirat. 7:45; Those who repel others from the path of God and seek to twist it, and/it is they (wahum) who are the rejecters of the akhirat. 11:19; Those who revere their Sustainer even when unseen, and/it is they (wahum) who are wary of the moment. 21:49; These are the ones who race in doing good, and/it is they (wahum) who are the first to it. 23:61; They only know the outward of the immediate life: and/it is they (wahum) who are heedless of the akhirat. 30:7; The ones who do not contribute towards betterment, and/it is they (wahum) who are the rejecters of the akhirat. 41:7

Note 3

A well-thought-out review of this article by Adeel Ahmed:

“Why does ruku have to be connected to salat and not zakat? The Qur’an mentions ruku after both salat and zakat are mentioned. If you want to read ruku to mean “bow in salat”, then you should also add “bow in zakat” to it as well, but because we are taking the meaning of ruku to mean a physical action, the meanings “bow in salat” and “bow in zakat” become nonsensical.

When the Qur’an uses a certain terminology, we have to understand that terminology in the way the Qur’an uses it. Yes, it’s possible for sujud and ruku to have physical connotations if and only if, you used these words where it is clear the context is in regards to physical actions. But that’s the exception.

I think this article does a good job (just like the suiud article), at diving down to the central point that the standard usage of both words, ruku and sujud, do not primarily refer to physical actions, but their general understandings (ruku=heeding/yielding/consenting, sujud=submitting/complying/abiding). In a given context, these words can take a physical rendition if the context demands it, but naturally, they won’t, and that’s the main purpose of this article.

Those Muslims (both traditional and Quran-centric ones), who hold onto the idea that the Qur’an contains verses that outline some details of a ritual/physical prayer with certain movements like bowing and prostrating, the relevant articles on this site refute that common misunderstanding through an analysis of how the Qur’an uses these words.”

Note 4

A few related verses:

And establish the salat and give the zakat and heed (ruku) with those who heed. 2:43

Purify My House/Institute (tahhirabaytiya) for the visitors (liltta-ifeena) and the dwellers (waalAAakifeena) and the ones who heed, complying (waalrrukkaAAi alssujoodi) 2:125 

The controllers said, “O Mary, God has selected you and cleansed you and has selected you over the women of the nations./ O Mary, be dutiful to your Sustainer and comply (sujud) and heed (ruku) with those who heed.” 3:42-43. Here Mary is asked to comply with God’s design and to heed with those who heed His laws of nature. She is not asked to ritually bow and prostrate with anyone whilst listening to the good news given by the controllers.  

Only your ally is God, His messenger and those who acknowledge, who establish the communication, and contribute towards betterment, and/it is they who heed (ruku). 5:55

(Triumphant are) those who turn around (taiboon), serve (abidoon), praise (hamidoon), journey (sa-ihoon), heed (rakiAAoon), comply (sajidoon) and command decency and forbid evil and keep within God´s limits”. 9:112 

And We appointed to Abraham the site of the House/Institute, saying: Do not set up anyone with Me, and purify My House/Institute for those who visit (ta’ifeen) and those who stand firm (qa’imeen) and those who heed, complying (rukkaAAi alssujood). 22:26

O you who acknowledge, heed (ruku, irka`oo) and comply (sujud, usjudoo) and serve (aboodu) your Sustainer and do good (ifaloo alkhayra) that you may succeed. 22:77

Then David realized that We had tested him, so he sought forgiveness from his Sustainer and fell heeding (kharra rakiān) and turned unto Him. 38:24 

Muhammad is God’s messenger (God is enough as witness for that. 48:28); and those who are with him are stern towards the rejecters and kind among themselves. You see them as ones who heed (rukka’an, noun), complying (sujjadan, adjective); they seek God’s bounty and pleasure. Their distinction (mark, sima) is in their countenances (wujooh; note: faces, not foreheads), from the compliances (sujud, noun, plural)… 48:29

Woe on that day to those who lied./ And when they are told to heed (irka’au) they do not heed (laa yar ka’uun). 77:47-48

Are all “O you who believe” verses applicable to us?

Are all “O you who believe” verses applicable to us

Are all “O you who believe” verses applicable to us today in the same way as they were applicable to their direct listeners of the 7th century Hijaz?

The answer is NO.

We are not the specific target audience of “O you who believe” verses

The commanding verses which begin with “O You Who Believe1 are often not applicable or, at least, not fully applicable to us because most of them were specifically addressed to the ‘believers’ during the time of Prophet Muhammad.

Structured according to their own historical context, these verses often contain very specific, time-bound instructions which, if not freshly reinterpreted, cannot be applicable after the Prophet’s life-time.

Here are a few examples from the Quran:

O you who believe, do not enter the Prophet’s homes unless invited

O you who believe, do not enter the homes of the Prophet unless you are invited to a meal, without you forcing such an invitation. But if you are invited, you may enter. … 33:53

O you who believe, do not stay overtime after finishing dining

O you who believe, do not enter the homes of the Prophet unless you are invited … And when you finish dining, you shall leave, without staying to wait for a HADITH. … 33:53

O you who believe, do not speak loudly to the Prophet and do not raise your voices above his voice

O you who believe, do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet, nor shall you speak loudly to him as you would speak loudly to each other, lest your works become nullified while you do not perceive. 49:2

O you who believe, you can hold a private meeting with the messenger

O you who believe, if you wish to hold a private meeting with the messenger, you shall offer a charity before you do so. … 58:12

O you who believe, if you want to consult the messenger privately, make a charity beforehand

O you who believe, if you wish to hold a private meeting with the messenger, you shall offer a charity before you do so. This is better for you, and purer. If you cannot do so, then God is Forgiver, Merciful./ Are you reluctant to offer a charity before such a meeting? But if you fail to do it, and God has forgiven you, then establish the communication, and contribute towards betterment, and obey God and His messenger: for God is fully aware of all that you do. 58:12-13

O you who believe, get the messenger’s permission before leaving his meeting

(O you who believe, 24:58), the believers are those who believe in God and His messenger, and when they are with him in a meeting, they do not leave him without permission. Those who ask permission are the ones who do believe in God and His messenger. (O messenger), if they ask your permission, in order to attend to some of their affairs, you may grant permission to whoever you wish, and ask God to forgive them. God is Forgiver, Merciful. 24:62

O you who believe, make space in the assemblies and get up, as instructed    

O you who believe, when you are told, “Make room in the assemblies”, then make room; God will then make room for you. And when you are told, “Get up”, then get up. God will raise in rank those of you who believe and those who acquire knowledge. God is fully aware of everything you do. 58:11

O you who believe, you can ask the Prophet’s wives for something, but only from behind a barrier

O you who believe, do not enter the homes of the Prophet unless you are invited to a meal … And if you ask his wives for something, ask them from behind a barrier. This is purer for your hearts and their hearts. 33:53

O you who believe, do not marry the Prophet’s wives

O you who believe … it is not for you to trouble the messenger of God, nor that you should marry his wives after him. This is indeed a gross offence with God. 33:53

O you who believe, fight the rejecters who are surrounding you

O you who believe, fight those who are around you of the rejecters, and let them find strength in you; and know that God is with the righteous. 9:123

O you who believe, take what the messenger gives you from spoils of war

(O you who believe), whatever gains God has restored to His messenger from the villages’ inhabitants, it shall be for God and His messenger and for the relatives and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer, so that it may not circulate only among those of you who are rich. So take whatever the messenger gives you; and abstain from whatever he forbids you. And be aware of God, for God is mighty in retribution. 59:7

O you who believe, provide active support for the Prophet’s mission

Surely God and His Forces support the Prophet. O you who believe! Support him and submit in full submission. 33:56. This active support included financial contribution (9:99).

O you who believe, rub about with clean sand from the rises of sand dunes if water is unavailable for cleaning before a congregational meeting

O you who acknowledge, when you rise/intend for the communication, then wash your faces and your hands till the elbows and wipe your heads and your feet till the ankles. … And if you are unclean … and couldn’t find water, then resort to clean high ground (sand dune), and wipe your faces and your hands. … 5:6. Translated here as high ground, the word ṣaʿīdan in 4:43 and 5:6 refers to ascents or rises of sand dunes where cleanest sand is expected to be found; cf. 35:10, 3:153, 6:125.

O you who believe, do not annoy or trouble the messenger

O you who believe, do not enter the homes of the Prophet unless you are invited … And when you finish dining, you shall leave, without staying to wait for a hadith. This used to trouble the Prophet, and he was shy to tell you. But God does not shy away from the truth. … it is not for you to trouble the messenger of God …/ Surely those who annoy God and His messenger, God will deprive them of His grace in this world and in the Hereafter; and He has prepared for them a humiliating retribution. 33:53, 57

O you who believe, follow the law of equivalence: the free for the free, and the slave for the slave …

O you who believe, the law of equivalence has been decreed for you in cases of murder: the free for the free, and the slave for the slave, and the female for the female. … 2:178

O you who believe, do not obey the rejecters

O you who believe, if you obey those who have rejected, then they will turn you back on your heels and you will turn back as losers. 3:149

O you who believe, remember God’s blessings as He saved you from the aggressors

O you who believe, remember God’s blessings upon you when a group desired to aggress against you, and He restrained their hands from you. And reverence God. And in God the believers should put their trust. 5:11

O you who believe, investigate the cases of the believing female immigrants

O you who believe, if believing females come emigrating to you, then investigate them. God is fully aware of their belief. Thus, if you establish that they are believers, then you shall not return them to the rejecters. … 60:10

O you who believe, never flee from the rejecters in battle

O you who believe, when you encounter in battle those who have rejected, do not turn your backs to them. 8:15

O you who believe, do not meet secretly to commit evil and to disobey the messenger

O you who believe, if you must meet secretly, then you shall not meet to commit offence, transgression, and to disobey the messenger. You shall meet to work righteousness and awareness. And be aware of God, before whom you will be summoned./ Secret meetings are from the devil, to cause grief to those who believed. However, he cannot harm them except if God wills. In God the believers shall put their trust. 58:9-10

O you who believe, while recording a loan, know that two female witnesses equal one male witness

O you who believe, if you borrow for a future period, then you shall record it. … And call upon two of your men to act as witnesses; and if two men are not available, then a man and two women from among such as are acceptable to you as witnesses, so that if one of them should make a mistake, the other could remind her. … 2:282

O you who believe, confine harlots to their houses until death

(O you who believe), and those who commit indecency from among your women, call upon four witnesses over them from among you; if they bear witness, then confine them to their houses until death takes them, or God makes for them a way out. 4:15

O you who believe, flog adulterers with a hundred lashes in presence of a group of believers

(O you who believe), the adulteress and the adulterer, you shall flog each of them with a hundred lashes, and do not let any pity overtake you regarding the system of God if you believe in God and the Last Day. And let a group of the believers witness their punishment. 24:2

O you who believe, do not marry mushriks, since believing slaves are better than mushriks

(O you who believe, 2:208), and do not marry the female associators until they believe. For a believing bondswoman is better than a female associator even if she attracts you. And do not marry the male associators until they believe. For a believing bondsman is better than a male associator even if he attracts you. These invite to the Inferno, when God invites to the Garden and to forgiveness within His permission when he reveals His signs to mankind that they may be mindful. 2:221

O you who believe, do not let the peace-breakers approach the Peace Project after this year

O you who believe, the associators are impure, so let them not approach the masjid al-haram after this year of theirs; and if you fear poverty, then God will enrich you from His blessings if He wills. God is Knowledgeable, Wise. 9:28

O you who believe, do not take the Jews and the Christians as friends/allies

O you who believe, do not take the Jews and the Christians as friends/allies, for they are friends/allies to one another; and whoever takes them as such from among you is one of them. God does not guide the wicked people. 5:51

O you who believe, fight the wrongdoing Jews and Christians until they pay the reparation in humility

Fight those who do not believe in God or the Last Day, nor do they forbid what God and His messenger have forbidden, nor do they uphold the system of truth, from among the people who received the Book, until they pay the reparation in humility. 9:29

The primary addressees of the Quran were the 7th century Hijazi Arabs, a community that has passed away

The Quran itself confirms that its messages, as delivered by Prophet Muhammad, were primarily addressed to the 7th century Hijazi Arabs2 (10:47, 14:4, 16:36, 36:3-7, 42:7, 43:44, 45:28,31). That was a community that has passed away. By focusing on the Quranic reminder about the communities that have passed away, we can freshly reinterpret the “O you who believe” verses, which were specifically meant for the ‘believers’ during the time of the Prophet’s ministry:

That was a community that has passed away; to them is what they earned and to you is what you have earned; you will not be asked about what they did. 2:134

That was a community that has passed away; to them is what they earned and to you is what you have earned; you will not be asked about what they did. 2:141

Final thoughts

It is important to understand that we are not the specific target audience of the verses related to the phrase “O you who believe”. These verses are often not applicable or, at least, not fully applicable to us because most of them were specifically addressed to the ‘believers’ during the time of Prophet Muhammad.

Structured according to their own historical context, these verses often contain very specific, time-bound instructions which, if not freshly reinterpreted, cannot be applicable after the Prophet’s life-time: e.g., do not enter the Prophet’s homes unless invited (33:53); do not stay overtime after finishing dining (33:53); do not speak loudly to the Prophet and do not raise your voices above his voice (49:2); you can hold a private meeting with the messenger (58:12); if you want to consult the messenger privately, make a charity beforehand (58:12-13); get the messenger’s permission before leaving his meeting (24:62); make space in the assemblies and get up, as instructed (58:11); you can ask the Prophet’s wives for something, but only from behind a barrier (33:53); do not marry the Prophet’s wives (33:53); fight the rejecters who are surrounding you (9:123); take what the messenger gives you from spoils of war (59:7); provide active support for the Prophet’s mission (33:56; 9:99); rub about with clean sand if water is unavailable for cleaning before a congregational meeting (5:6); do not annoy or trouble the messenger (33:53, 57); follow the law of equivalence: the free for the free, and the slave for the slave (2:178); do not obey the rejecters (3:149); remember God’s blessings as He saved you from the aggressors (5:11); investigate the cases of the believing female immigrants (60:10); never flee from the rejecters in battle (8:15); do not meet secretly to commit evil and to disobey the messenger (58:9-10); while recording a loan, know that two female witnesses equal one male witness (2:282); confine harlots to their houses until death (4:15); flog adulterers with a hundred lashes in presence of a group of believers (24:2); do not marry mushriks, since believing slaves are better than mushriks (2:221); do not let the peace-breakers approach the Peace Project after this year (9:28); do not take the Jews and the Christians as friends/allies (5:51); fight the wrongdoing Jews and Christians until they pay the reparation in humility (9:29); and so on.

There is nothing in the Quran that asserts that all the specifics of these verses – which were meant for the 7th century Hijazi Arabs – should be generalized, without reinterpretation, for all people and all time. While it is possible to draw some general guidelines and universal values out of these specifics, taking them as immutable and literally applicable for all and for always – by ripping them off their history and timeline – must be, to our opinion, very confusing and completely misguiding, and against the rational spirit of the Quran.

Failure to understand the above remains one of the root causes of confusion and misguidance among current Muslims. 

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Note 1

To better understand the scriptures, including the Quran, we do need to understand the cognitive environment of the audience to which those scriptures were addressed. As an evangelical scholar said, “While the Bible was written for us; it wasn’t written to us”. By prefacing these verses with the addressing “O you who believe”, the Quran is asking the desert Arabs to pay particular attention to the messages conveyed. The vocative “O” (“ya”) carries the emphasis: “Look, I’m about to tell you something important, so you better listen up.” Now, to avoid confusion, above we have kept the traditional translation of “Ya ayyuha allatheena amanoo” as “O you who believe”, though the Arabic phrase actually means “O you who have acknowledged (the truth)”. The verb amanoo (believe), wherefrom derives the verbal noun iman, is related to amanat (trustiness) and thus essentially means acknowledgement of a thing/truth already known/evident to the receiver. The antithesis of iman is kufar, i.e., covering or rejection of a thing/truth, though already known/evident to the receiver, due to some selfish gain. Iman is usually translated, inadequately, as ‘belief’, which otherwise means acceptance of something as true without seeking proof. However, we are asked not to believe anything blindly (17:36, 56:57) but to acknowledge the evident truth, which is to be grasped through a continuous process of observing, reasoning and learning (20:114, 39:33, 43:3-4, 49:14-15, 70:26).  

Note 2

The Quran itself confirms that its messages, as delivered by Prophet Muhammad, were primarily addressed to the 7th century Hijazi Arabs, a community and a generation that has passed away:

And for every community is a messenger; and once their messenger has appeared, judgment is passed between them, in all fairness; and they are not wronged. 10:47

And We did not send any messenger but with the language of his people, so that he might explain to them clearly. 14:4

And We have sent a messenger to every community (with this message): You shall serve God and avoid false deities. 16:36

You are one of the messengers./ Upon a straight path./ A revelation of the Almighty, the Merciful./ To warn a people whose fathers were not warned, and so they are unaware./ The retribution has been deserved by most of them, for they do not believe. 36:3-7

And thus We have inspired to you a lecture in Arabic, so that you may warn the Mother of settlements and all around it. 42:7

And this (Quran) is indeed a reminder for you and your people (qawm); and you will all be questioned. 43:44

And you will see every community kneeling, every community summoned to its record, “This day you shall be requited for all that you ever did.”/… As for those who rejected: “Were not My messages recited to you, but you turned arrogant and were wicked people?” 45:28, 31

Man’s place in the Universe

Man's place in the universe

When the Quran designates Adam as khalifah in the Earth (fee al-ardi khaleefatan, 2:30), it simply depicts modern man as an inheritor of the Earth.

Here it is important to observe that humankind (Adam) is described as khalifah – an inheritor, successor and leader – of the planet Earth only (2:30, 6:133, 6:165, 27:62, 33:72, 35:39), NOT of the entire Universe.  

Yes, the species Homo sapiens is a successor of his anthropoid ancestors and also the leader of all other species on Earth as he replaces them all on top of the food chain. In other words, modern humans are an inheritor of the top position in the food chain of Earth’s ecosystem (6:133).

As a result of traditional Judaeo-Christian influences transmitted through earlier tafsirs, many commentators inappropriately rendered the word khalifah as ‘vicegerent of God’. However, since God is beyond all our perceptions and portrayals, and since He is without any associate whatsoever, we shouldn’t place ourselves in the exalted rank of a representative or successor of God.

Now, when we compare our ephemeral lifespan with the great aeons of cosmic evolution (76:1-2), and compare our sluggish motion with the tremendous speed of light (17:37, 32:5, 22:47) – a contrast that keeps us in the gravitational hold of this ‘sticky Earth’ (55:33, 37:8-11) and makes our crossing of titanic intergalactic distances next to impossible (15:14-15, 37:8-11, 40:35-37, 52:38) – we readily understand our fleetingness, minuteness and insignificance compared to the enormous Universe, and the consequent limitedness of our minds in these space-time brackets (40:56-57, 52:35-37, 79:27-31).

Over and over again, we are reminded of the triviality of our knowledge about existence in contrast to the unending complexity of the multidimensional multiverse we live in, from the outward vastness of macrocosm to the inward depth of microcosm (17:85, 34:9, 40:57, 48:4, 48:7, 74:31).  Over and over again, we are reminded of our insignificance compared to the whole of God’s creation (7:185, 16:4, 18:51, 36:77, 35:10-11, 37:8-11, 40:56-57, 52:35-41, 74:31,  48:4, 48:7, 79:27-31).

These Quranic concepts about man’s place in the Universe are consistent with our current scientific knowledge.

From an astronomical perspective, we are but one among hundreds of millions of species that evolved over the course of 3.5 billion years on one tiny planet among many planets orbiting the Sun, an ordinary star, which forms just one of the millions of solar systems among 400 billion of stars in an ordinary galaxy, which in itself is located in a cluster of galaxies along with millions of other clusters of galaxies, counting a total number of 3 trillion galaxies in the observable Universe, all moving themselves whirling away from one another in an accelerating, expanding cosmic bubble universe that very possibly is only one among a near infinite number of bubble universes. Please ponder these:

And none knows the hosts of your Sustainer but He Himself alone. 74:31 (cf. 48:4, 48:7)

Are they then not aware of how little of the Heaven and the Earth lies open before them, and how much is hidden from them? 34:9

And very little of knowledge you have been granted. 17:85

To believe that this entire multiverse was designed and created for one minuscule subsection of a specific life form, crawling on a tiny planet in an insignificant galaxy, which is wondering among zillions of galaxies and clusters and superclusters in that solitary bubble universe, is arrogantly anthropocentric and logically absurd – as the following verses confirm1:

Your Sustainer alone is self-sufficient, limitless in His mercy. If He wills, He can wipe you off and make whomever He wishes successors after you, just like He raised you up out of the seed of another people. 6:133

O people, you are the ones who need God, while God is in no need for anyone, the Most Praiseworthy./ If He wills He can blot you out and bring in a new creation./ Nor is that difficult for God. 35:15-17

Greater indeed than the creation of man is the creation of the Heavens and the Earth; but most people know not. 40:57

This awareness about our fleetingness, minuteness and insignificance compared to the vast Universe – the awareness about our small place in it – should elevate us to a higher plane of humanity and humility.

Related article: What is harder to create: Man or Universe?

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Note 1

Potentially there are, and there may come, better creatures than man (note the word ‘many’ in 17:70): We have honoured the children of Adam and We carry them in the land and the sea and provided them with decent things and exalted them above MANY of Our creatures. 17:70; Do you not see that God created the Heavens and the Earth with Truth? If He so wills, He can remove you and bring forth a new creation? 14:19; cf. 6:133, 35:15-17

Earth, the great womb of evolving life

Earth, the great womb of evolving life

The Quran describes the Earth as a womb of evolving life-forms

Earth is called Mother Earth because it is in her womb where all life stems and grows. Interestingly, the Quran constantly describes the Earth as a womb for evolving life-forms, comparing it with mother’s womb. See: 3:5-7; 6:98,99,139,140,143,144; 6:137-144; 11:6; 16:4,10,11,65,78; 22:2-6; 23:12-19; 27:60-61; 31:34; 39:6-7,21; 41:39; 41:47; 71:17; 77:20,21,25,26,27.

Earth is portrayed as a mother’s womb

We observe how the Quran draws an analogy between the Earth and mother’s womb:

He it is who sends down water; and He Alone knows what is in the WOMBS. No self knows what it will reap tomorrow. 31:34

Have We not created you out of a water humble?/ Then We established it in a secure firm-abode (qararin makeen),/ To an extent that is predetermined?/ Thus have We determined according to a measure, for excellent indeed are We at measuring!/ Woe on that day to the falsifiers!/ Have We not made the Earth to draw together to itself,/ The living and the dead?/ And set therein mountains, firm lofty, and given you to drink of water sweet? 77:20-27

The latter is a reference to the establishment of the seed of life – in the mother’s womb as well as in the Earth, the great womb of evolving life – in accordance with the ‘cosmic blueprint’ or predestination1 (cf. ‘known measure’, 15:21). This reminds us of human evolution2, both generic and individual, which, in Quranic worldview, follows an intelligent design.

Then the passage below3 outlines the fetal development in mother’s womb, while simultaneously referring to man’s growth within the tree of evolution. This parallel mention of ontogenetic and phylogenetic aspects of evolution implies a resemblance between the two types of evolution, thus obliquely supporting the scientific observation that the development of the embryo somehow traces the evolutionary development of the species4:

O mankind! If you have a doubt about resurrection, then consider that We fashioned you out of dust, then out of a droplet (nutfa), then out of a leech (alaq, clinger), then out of a lump (mudgha), complete and yet incomplete, in order that We may make clear to you; and We cause whom We will to rest in the WOMBS for an appointed term; … And you see the Earth barren, but when We sent down the water thereon, it thrilled and swelled and grew every kind/pair of cheering growth./ This is because God is the Reality: it is He who gives life to the dead, and it is He who has power over all things. 22:5-6

Both Earth and mother’s womb are equally defined as a firm-abode (qarar) for life

Below is another instance where fetal development is mentioned within the context of man’s generic evolution:

We fashioned man from an extract of clay./ Then We established him as a droplet (nutfa) in a secure FIRM-ABODE (qararin makeen)./ Then We fashioned the droplet into a leech (alaq, clinger); then we fashioned the leech into a lump (mudgha); then we fashioned within the lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh; then We caused him to grow into another creature. Exalted therefore is God, the Best of creators!/… And We sent down water from the Heaven according to a measure, then We caused it to lodge in the Earth, and most surely We are able to carry it away./ Then We cause to grow thereby gardens … . 23:12-14, 18-19

It is commonly perceived that the specific terms used in 23:12-14 strictly apply to the stages of fetal development only. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case when we read these verses from other perspectives. For example, if we sense that the term ‘droplet’ here embodies the first unicellular organism, and ‘leech’ and ‘lump’ symbolise the invertebrates, while ‘fashioning of bones and clothing with flesh’ implies their ossification and transformation into vertebrates (with classes fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals), then the narration seems also to sketchily fit into the phylogenetic stages of man’s evolution as a species. Or, if we read 23:12-14 from the perspective of modern evolutionary developmental biology, they appear to accord with the observation that the development of the embryo somehow traces the evolutionary development of the species4. Evidently, 23:12-14, like 22:5 and 32:7-10, portray generic and individual evolution as two sides of one interconnected whole and therefore do not restrict the terms to the fetal development only.

Now, translated as firm-abode, the word qarar5 here means a place where the seed of life is established, referring to both the uterus and the Earth. This is maintained by the ongoing context where the Earth is depicted as a mother’s womb and, likewise, a firm-abode for life (cf. 22:5-6). Here is another similar mention of the word:

Have We not created you out of a water humble?/ Then We established it in a secure FIRM-ABODE (qararin makeen),/ … Have We not made the Earth to draw together to itself,/ The living and the dead?/ And set therein mountains, firm lofty, and given you to drink of water sweet? 77:20-21, 25-27

Finally we note how an analogous passage directly calls the Earth itself a qarar (firm-abode) for man:

Or, who has created the Heavens and the Earth, and has sent down for you water from the Heaven wherewith We cause to grow beautiful orchards …/ Or, who has made the Earth a FIRM-ABODE (qarar), and made in it rivers, and raised on it mountains and placed between the two seas a barrier. Is there a god with God? Nay! But most of them know not! 27:60-61

Please compare the above two passages and observe how they both describe the Earth as a stable dwelling; both mention mountains to symbolize this stability; and both refer to drinking water as an essential condition for human life to survive and grow:

Likewise, the Quran describes both the Earth and mother’s womb as mustaqarr (habitation, course, settlement, 6:98-99, 11:6)6, a word sharing common root with qarar, thereby, once again, alluding to both generic and individual evolution of man.

There are parallel references to all wombs, including that of Mother Earth

Please note how the verses below make parallel references to all wombs, including wombs of animals (6:139, 143, 144), womb of Mother Earth that sustains and evolves all life forms (6:141; cf. 6:98-99), and wombs of humans (6:137 and 6:140 mention infanticide, an allusion to human womb; cf. 6:98 refers to embryological development from a single cell):

Thus, for idol-worshippers their idols adorned the killing of born children …/ And they said: What is in the bellies of these livestock is purely for our males …/ Losers are those who have killed their born children foolishly …/ And He it is who has brought into being gardens – both the cultivated and the wild – and palm trees, and multiform crops in diversity …/ Say: Is it the two males that He has forbidden, or the two females, or what the WOMBS of the two females bore? …/ Say: Is it the two males that He has forbidden, or the two females, or what the WOMBS of the two females bore? … 6:137-144

Earth’s fertility is mentioned along with the fertility of mother’s womb

Time and again, the Quran draws an analogy between the fertility of Mother Earth and the fertility of mother’s womb:

O mankind! … We fashioned you out of dust, then out of a droplet, … and We cause whom We will to rest in the WOMBS for an appointed term; … And you see the Earth barren, but when We sent down the water thereon, it thrilled and swelled and grew every kind/pair of cheering growth. 22:5

He it is who sends down water; and He Alone knows what is in the WOMBS. No self knows what it will reap tomorrow. 31:34

To Him belongs the knowledge regarding the Hour. And no fruit emerges from its sheath, nor does any female conceive or give birth, except by His knowledge. 41:47

For God nothing is hidden in the Earth or in the Heaven./ He it is who fashions you in the WOMBS as He wills. There is no god but Him, the Almighty, the Wise./ He is the One who sent down to you the Book (rain, a symbol for revelation)… 3:5-7

Please look into the last passage. Since the Quran defines the Earth as a womb of evolving life-forms, this reference here to man’s biological development in wombs includes individual as well as generic, i.e., his evolution from lower animal stages through millions of years in the Earth’s great womb.

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Note 1

The word qadar, translated above in 77:20-23 as extent (‘To an extent that is predetermined’), implies the point or degree to which a thing extends. Thus qadar refers to the measure, scale, level, amount, magnitude, dimension, range, distance, length, area, size, depth, space, expanse, time, duration, address, co-ordinate and all other specifications over which a thing extends.

Note 2

Man as a species has evolved in a process of gradual evolution in the enormous womb of the Earth’s vast space-time going through millions of non-organic, organic and animal stages, up to the point where ‘man the animal’ eventually became self-conscious ‘Homo sapiens’. Then an individual man evolves in a process of gradual evolution in the mother’s womb, up to the point where the embryo becomes a new, self-contained human entity: all of which points to the existence of a plan and a purpose and, hence, to the existence of a conscious Creator.

Note 3

O mankind! If you have a doubt about resurrection, then consider that We fashioned you out of dust, then out of a droplet (nutfa), then out of a leech (alaq, clinger), then out of a lump (mudgha), complete and yet incomplete, in order that We may make clear to you; and We cause whom We will to rest in the WOMBS for an appointed term; then We bring you out a child, then you reach your maturity, and of you are those who will pass away, and of you are those who are sent to an old age where he will not be able to learn any new knowledge after what he already has. And you see the Earth barren, but when We sent down the water thereon, it thrilled and swelled and grew every kind/pair of cheering growth./ This is because God is the Reality: it is He who gives life to the dead, and it is He who has power over all things. 22:5-6. Following a reference to pregnancy and miscarriage as a result of the Earth’s violent convulsion (22:2), the passage outlines the fetal development in mother’s womb, while simultaneously referring to man’s growth within the tree of evolution. This parallel mention of ontogenetic and phylogenetic aspects of evolution implies a resemblance between the two types of evolution, thus obliquely supporting the scientific observation that the development of the embryo somehow traces the evolutionary development of the species. Then ‘And you see the Earth barren, but…’ further depicts the Earth as a mother’s womb (cf. 31:34), while the expression ‘grew (anbatat) every kind/pair of cheering growth’ clearly includes mankind as a species (kind/pair) of growth (further confirmed by ‘And God has made you grow (anbatat) from the Earth as a growth/growing plant (nabat). 71:17’), thus reminding us of the single genealogical/phylogenetic tree, i.e., the great tree of evolution, which is shared by all life on Earth as their common ancestry. It is interesting to note that 22:5-6 describe the present Earth as sterile, incapable of giving birth to new life, like the womb of an older mother that was once fertile (‘And you see the Earth barren, but..’). This is true as the Earth we see today is literally sterile because of its current ecological conditions which are balanced by certain biotic and abiotic factors that are very different from those of the primeval Earth, particularly due to its current oxygen-rich atmosphere that resists any de novo creation of living matter from nonliving molecules. Here the use of perfect tense can be interpreted as an allusion to Earth’s vivification as a past event related to the geo-biological evolution of the earlier Earth (‘but when We sent down the water thereon, it thrilled and swelled’). While the expression ‘thrilled and swelled …’ portrays life as a phenomenon with pleasant excitement, it also reminds us of the ‘explosion of life’ as a result of its huge reproductive potential that led to the great evolutionary expansion and diversification. Life on Earth has probably emerged from non-life sometime between 4.4 billion years ago – when water first came down from proto-atmosphere as water vapour liquefied (‘but when We sent down the water thereon, it thrilled’) – and 2.7 billion years ago, when first appeared the green pigment chlorophyll which was able to carry out photosynthesis (cf. ‘therewith have We brought forth all living growth, then have We brought forth out of it green. 6:99’). During this early geological period there gradually formed in an oxygen-free atmosphere increasingly complex organic substances composed of available inorganic compounds and water, utilizing ultraviolet rays and electrical discharges as energy sources. The Earth’s pre-biotic oceans – very different from their modern counterparts – would have formed a ‘hot dilute soup’ in which organic compounds, the building blocks of life, could have formed (cf. ‘and His Throne was upon the water … 11:7’). At a certain stage these organic compounds formed a diffuse solution of ‘nutrient broth’. Then they were drawn together and developed the capacity for self-renewal and self-reproduction. Living matter evolved through this process from self-replicating but nonliving molecules (‘it is He who gives life to the dead.’). Life on Earth thus most probably started its journey as self-replicating molecules such as RNA, and then as the assembly of simple cells. Prokaryotes were the first organisms to inhabit the Earth, 3-4 billion years ago. Soon after the emergence of the first multicellular organisms, a remarkable amount of biological diversity appeared over 10 million years, in an event called the Cambrian explosion. About 500 million years ago, plants and fungi colonized the land, and were soon followed by arthropods and other animals. Amphibians first appeared around 300 million years ago, followed by early amniotes, then mammals around 200 million years ago and birds around 100 million years ago. Thus continued the tremendous diversification of life in space, time and varieties (‘it thrilled and swelled and grew…’), all starting from a single simple life source. This development of organic molecules from inorganic, living from non-living and one evolutionary stage out of another, points to the existence and ever-presence of an almighty Creator who is the absolute Reality (22:6). Sceptics about resurrection are therefore asked to ponder on the origin and evolution of their own life as well as of all the life forms, towards the awareness that the ever-Living Divine who has initiated and evolved life out of non-living is certainly able as easily to bring dead to life. Below we find in concise form a very similar comparison of man’s future resurrection with Earth’s vivification in the past, within an evolutionary context, as depicted in 22:5-6: And among His messages is this, that you see the Earth humble, but when We sent down the water thereon, it thrilled and swelled: most surely He who gives life to it is the Giver of life to the dead; surely He has power over all things. 41:39

Note 4

Haeckel’s theory of recapitulation postulated that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”, i.e., the development of the embryo of an animal, from fertilization to gestation or hatching (ontogeny), goes through stages resembling or representing successive adult stages in the evolution of the animal’s remote ancestors (phylogeny). Today, while the proponents of modern evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) think that Haeckel overstated the case, they agree that some parts of his theory still make sense. See: Recapitulation_theory and Anatomical clues to human evolution from fish.

Note 5

Derived from Qaf-Ra-Ra, the word qarar means a fixed or secure place, firm-abode, settlement, establishment, habitat, depository etc.

Note 6

The Quran describes both the Earth and mother’s womb as mustaqarr (habitation, course, settlement, 6:98-99, 11:6), a word sharing common root with qarar, thus, once again, alluding to both generic and individual evolution of man: And He it is who has initiated you from a single living entity, and then: a habitation (mustaqarr) and a destination. Thus have We detailed the messages to a people who comprehend./ And He it is who has sent down water from the Heaven; and therewith have We brought forth all living growth … . 6:98-99; cf. And there is no moving creature on Earth but depends for its sustenance on God; and He knows its habitation (mustaqarr) and its destination: all is in a clear record. 11:6

Does Deen have a structure?

Does Deen have a structure

Question: As far as your study and realization is concerned, do you see no place for structure when it comes to Deen or its implementation? I am struggling to find this balance because nature has structure, like Sun rises at fixed times and sets similarly with a precise structure or law. We know an institution needs to have certain structure when it comes to operating in a complex world. So, is SALAT with its wider meaning totally devoid of any structure, or it can have its place?

Answer: Many thanks. The Quran says that the message about Deen1 – the code of conduct for a decent existence – has always been the same to all messengers, though in their own language so their community understands. It means that, while the message is the same, which is about the permanent values, it needs to be delivered in the language understood by a people of a specific time and place. However, since a language is in constant flux – evolving with the evolving needs of the socio-economics of a given community/generation – the interpretation and implementation of the message itself must be dynamic and must follow the spatiotemporal course of the language including its socio-economic, political, scientific and philosophical terms.

To my reading, the Quran outlines in a condensed form all the timeless Universal Principles of eternal Islam. It thereby constitutes a relative structure of Deen, while leaving its implementation flexible and open to the understandings of the communities and generations.

We note how often the Quran describes itself as ‘no more than a REMINDER’. Thus – unlike the statutory laws legislated by governments or the canonised directives of ritualistic, organised religions – the Quranic messages per se are more like ‘general guidelines’ or ‘reminders’ rather than strict or structured rules and regulations.

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Now, towards the structuring of a divinely desired society, the Quran gives all the basic (but only basic) guidelines: e.g., importance of inductive reasoning, importance of education and science, equal human rights, parliamentary democracy, tax-benefit system for fair distribution of wealth, justice for all without any form of discrimination, women’s rights, need to help the weak, abolition of slavery, peaceful co-existence with multinational, multicultural and multi-faith cooperation, protection of resources and prevention of environmental pollution, freedom of creeds, freedom of opinions and thoughts and so on.

Broadly speaking, any modern secular state aims to implement most or all of these basic principles, because – being just, rational and beneficial for all humanity – they are not only Quranic but also universal.

Moreover, though looks paradoxical, these Quranic guidelines can be followed better within the framework of a secular (faith-neutral) government rather than in a theocracy. That is because, in any theocracy, the religious group in power is naturally predisposed to authoritarianism and intolerance to the interpretations and opinions of others – and that is all justified in the name of a god it unreservedly deems its own property. This is enough reason why the modern world, going through a process of enlightenment, has this irresistible craving for secularism in its desperate struggle for a better and just society.

In view of the above, I think SALAT with its wider meaning does contain certain structure, though not in the way as perceived by organised sharia or ritualistic Islam. For more observations, you may find this study useful: Why establishing the Salat means doing Works of Reform.

Final thoughts

Deen is merely a code of conduct for a decent existence, the same universal code sent down to all messengers to deliver them out of their state of disorder into unity and peace. Unfortunately, the Deen of Islam that was originally preached by the Prophet has been gradually turned into an organized religion.

At present, the Quranic principles of Deen are mostly implemented by modern secular states. It is because – being just, rational and beneficial for all humanity – they are not only Quranic but also universal.

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Note 1

Deen is the way or system of life humans must adopt to comply with divine law. Contrary to the traditional understanding, Deen in the Quran doesn’t mean a religious system for the ‘organised religion of Islam’. Rather it means a secular order of social constructs for all, irrespective of personal religion, race, culture, gender, age, socio-economic status etc. The Quran unequivocally embraces all law-abiding groups, including the law-abiding ‘mushrikeen’, in the fold of Deen (9:11). This becomes obvious when we note that the primary scenario wherein the Quran was revealed was to oppose, undermine and evoke questions of the status quo, targeting social inequality, human right abuses and inadequate economic practices. With all these core memorandums of the Quran, the Prophet relentlessly challenged the oppressive elites of his society, steeped in idols and mindless rituals. This original message of knowledge, justice and social reform was later suppressed by the same oppressors through the ritualization of Islam that gradually transmuted it into a religion.  

Finding God through His signs in nature

Finding God through His signs in nature

God, according to the Quran, exists both as Hidden (Batin) and Manifest (Zahir) (57:3). So, while the essence of God itself is unfathomable and thus hidden from us (6:103), He makes Himself evident to us by revealing some of His outward aspects. To many deep observers, these divine manifestations or signs of nature appear to be ‘evidences’ for God’s existence.

Yet, as human observation is never complete, our observation of these ‘divine manifestations’ can only strongly point towards the Ultimate but can never reach its door. Hence, to be logically consistent, we will consider these perceived ‘evidences’ for God’s existence as arguments rather than evidences. This constitutes the basis of the philosophical arguments for the existence of God.

Here we will briefly present some of these arguments for the existence of God in light of modern philosophy, supported by Quranic verses. We will also note how the traditional theistic arguments remain actually unscathed by the objections raised by the atheists.

Cosmological argument

A most-cited argument for God’s existence is the cosmological argument that asserts that God is the Unmoved Mover or the Uncaused First Cause of the Universe and all that there is in it. Critics point out that such an argument involves an infinite regress. The advocates of the argument, however, argue that a series of causes preceding an event cannot be infinite because it has to end with the occurrence of that event. But because an infinite sequence by definition is one that never ends, an infinite regress of temporal causes is logically impossible. So they insist that, as there can be thus no infinite series of causes nor can there be an infinite chain of causation, there must be a First Mover or a First Cause, called God.

In other words, while an eternal Universe/existence can be imagined, it cannot be a Universe/existence in which events keep taking place. In a temporal Universe like ours, there has to be a starting point for events. This argument was further refined by modern philosophers like William Lane Craig, who also promoted the current version of the Kalam Cosmological argument. See The New Atheism and Five Arguments for God. In multiple ways the Quran itself upholds the cosmological argument (52:35-38, 55:26-29, 51:49, 112:1-4, 35:15, 3:97, 29:6, 2:255; cf. 6:14, 6:79, 3:109, 21:30, 21:104, 2:117, 42:11).

Ontological argument

This, also known as the Greatest Concept argument, conditions our existence on the existence of the highest conceivable being, i.e., God. As the Quran also states, since the finite cannot explain itself without eventually asking the infinite, our awareness about the existence of our own being makes us aware about the existence of the Greatest Being, which is the highest conception humanly possible (5:116, 6:75-79, 30:7-8, 45:3-4, 51:23).

Originally conceived by St. Anselm, this argument has been reformulated and defended by others and culminate in more sophisticated versions in terms of modal logic, devised by mathematician Kurt Gödel. Gödel’s Incompleteness theorem, which mathematically proves God as an unavoidable logical necessity, remains unchallenged in modern science and philosophy. The ontological argument has also been subject to criticism such as that it involves a fallacy of petitio principii. However, as this argument is related to our awareness of our own existence, it seems to have substance in terms of its relation to modern consciousness argument that equates God with the Highest Consciousness.

Teleological argument

This, also known as the Intelligent Design argument, relates to the observed order and design and intricate mechanism and fine-tuning that characterize the structure and working of the Universe and takes it as the indicator that there is an architect or intelligent designer behind this, who is God.

The argument goes as follows: Evidence of design implies a Designer. So, when we look at the Universe, how it displays an amazing design and fine-tuning, we ask: Is it possible that such an intricate mechanism, from the stars in the galaxies to the planets orbiting the Sun to the layers of atmosphere protecting life on Earth to the cells in our bodies to the thoughts in our minds could all have happened by chance? Most probably this enormously complex mechanism has been designed – by a divine Designer. The Quran also persistently calls on us to ponder on God’s existence and greatness by observing the perfect order, balance and design all over the creation (2:29, 15:16-19, 15:28-29, 22:18, 32:7-9; 35:41, 38:71-76, 51:7, 51:47, 55:7, 67:3-4, 71:13-18, 75:36-40, 82:6-8, 87:1-3, 91:7-10). It calls God Al-Bari, or The Designer (59:24).

Advanced science is now in the process of increasingly gathering very strong empirical evidence from all branches of study suggesting design, balance and proportion. When we deeply observe the Universe we notice patterns among completely ‘disjointed’ objects. It is difficult to ignore the ‘intelligence’ and information stored in the core of all matter and all observable events that appear to suggest an all-round creative evolution driven and guided by a mastermind (God). While scientists thus generally recognize the grand design of the Universe, there are those who are overwhelmed by its wonder and also those who find a mastermind or ‘intelligence’ behind the design. But as God is not a subject of scientific discussion, scientists refrain from talking about God.

Metascientific argument

Because the precise methodology of science covers only the observable things of the temporal world, science doesn’t discuss God who is beyond time and change, and therefore doesn’t attempt to prove or disprove His existence. Rather it is religion and philosophy that promote the discussion. A good testament to God’s existence, however, is offered by what we call metascientific perspective. In a meta(or extra)-scientific analysis, all nature extols divine glory, as the Quran insists, so every single thing bears God’s fingerprints in creation. To a keen observer, therefore, every single thing in the Universe presents a perceivable proof of God’s existence (17:44, 57:1). Thus, everywhere throughout the creation, s/he witnesses divine manifestations in all the signs of nature (3:190-191, 10:6). These include the immutable laws of nature or ways of God in dealing with things (35:43) as well as those divine manifestations that are carried out through the actions of the free agents in creation (2:251, 8:17). The Quran affirms that those who harbour sure conviction about God see divine signs in the earth as well as within their own selves (51:20-21).

Also, deep within every soul there is a wise sage, the inner fountain of wisdom that speaks with the voice of intuition. Many people with mystical predispositions, including prophets, saints and visionaries, claim to have had spiritual experiences while they heard this inner voice. Some higher levels of these experiences have been perceived as divine revelation, which is accepted by many as indirect evidence of God’s existence. This direct experiencing of the Divine from within, by an awakened soul, is of a different quality from sensory experience or intellectual discovery, and therefore is beyond the domain of physical sciences. We all may experience the Divine directly through our own existential experience and our spiritual awareness, acquired via self-actualization, by thinking right and doing right (7:85, 59:18-24).

The Reality argument

Everyone defines God in their own way. In philosophical discussions God is the biggest entity our mind can conceive. There is nothing in logic or science that can ever dismiss or disprove such entity. Thus, before any debate about God’s existence, we need to clarify what we mean by God, while grasping some nuances of characteristics of God first. A discussion based on different theologies can be quite different in this regard.

Here we come across the perspective of those who define God as The Reality. For example, according to Bultmann, God is not a person but the Reality personified. To different people this Reality may convey a different nuance of meaning: The Infinite, The Ultimate, The Absolute, The Existence, The Whole Truth, The Totality, The Changeless Eternal and so on. The Quran also describes God as The Reality (Al-Haqq, The Truth; 6:62, 18:44, 20:114, 22:6, 22:62, 23:116, 24:25, 31:30). An atheist may perceive this Reality as blind nature. But, as the Quran asks, How can The Reality be blind when it has given you the eyes (90:7-8; cf. 6:103)?

We see an enigmatic power operative in our everyday lives, giving us our lives and all good gifts yet also limiting us in nearly every conceivable way, and finally taking our lives away. There can be no argument whether or not this Reality exists. We are not talking about some metaphysical idea here. We are talking about an unavoidable actuality. Once we thus define God as The Reality, God’s existence becomes self-evident by the definition itself and requires no further proof.

Final thoughts

By reflecting on the signs of nature, we can try to understand whether and how God exists. It appears that, while God exists as Hidden, He also exists as Manifest by displaying some of His attributes through the perceivable signs of nature. For example, in cosmological argument we find God existing as one, unique, first, first cause, uncaused cause, eternal, infinite, almighty, unmoved mover, initiator, innovator, creator and so on. In ontological argument we find God existing as the greatest concept. And in teleological argument we observe God existing as cosmic blueprinter, designer, evolver, intelligent, wise, nourisher, sustainer and so forth.

Further reading:

The New Atheism and Five Arguments for God by William Lane Craig

The Multiverse and the Prevalence of Anthropic Coincidences in Recent Physics by Stephen M. Barr