Islam, although the youngest of the world’s major religions is the second largest and fastest growing religion in the world, presently constituting 20% of the world’s population and as shown elsewhere is likely to overtake Christianity at the global level, and to overtake Hinduism in the subcontinent by around the year 2050 AD. In the Indian subcontinent [India, Pakistan and Bangladesh] the number of Muslims in 1991 was 323 million and constituted around 30% percent of the world Muslim population.
Muslims have always aggressively held that Islam is the only perfect and the final religion created by God. Unlike ancient religions like Hinduism and Taoism (which they contend are unhistorical religions based on mythology alone), they declare that Islam is a historical religion with all events and teachings truthfully recorded. It is THE final revelation of God. In this and the next chapter we propose to examine these claims. It is important to do this so that we can better understand the psychology of Muslims in general and the Muslims of the subcontinent in particular. The tenets of Islam are briefly covered in Appendix D.
In this chapter we shall review their claims of historicity and also survey their basic scriptures and beliefs. This will enable us to philosophically examine this religion alongside with Christianity, its sister religion, in the next chapter before we proceed to study the religion in our subcontinent in the subsequent chapters.
ORIGIN AND EARLY YEARS OF ISLAM
According to the accepted version of the origin of Islam, the founder of this religion was Muhammad who was born in Mecca, Arabia in 570 AD. As an orphan he was brought up by his grandfather and uncle who belonged to a well known family in the Kuraish tribe. He was a sensitive young man given to deep contemplation and often went to a nearby mountain for meditation. There in 610 AD, he had a vision of the angel Gabriel who declared that God or Allah had chosen him to be the prophet of the true religion and also that he, Muhammad would be the last of the prophets of the Abrahamic faiths. The Angel was a go-between Allah and Muhammad and continued to give revelations until the end of Muhammad’s life. [To know the full reality, one should read ‘Understanding Muhammad’, available in English, Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, Tamil, and Indonesian or a short biography.]
Muhammad had earlier married a rich widow, his employer, and carried on trade on her behalf for which he had to travel extensively across the nearby regions in the course of which he came into contact with several Jewish and Christian groups and studied their practices closely. He shared his revelations with close friends and relatives who became his first followers. After his death the revelations were collected together from various sources and came to be known as the Koran.
Later on, ‘acting upon the advice of the Angel’, he started to preach his religion openly which brought him into conflict with fellow Meccans who were polytheists. Ultimately he had to migrate to Medina in 622 AD. This year is taken as the start of the Muslim era. In Medina he consolidated his position and ultimately captured Mecca in 630 AD. He became the undisputed master of Arabia and consolidated his hold over the whole of the country and converted the Arabs of his country to his religion which he called Islam or ‘peace’. He died in 632 AD.
His successors, the Caliphs, continued his mission-of; conquest and within one hundred years of the Prophet’s death, the Arabs became masters of a vast region extending from the Bay of Biscay to the Indus and the frontiers of China, from the Aral sea to the Upper Nile. The traditional chronology of the more important events in the early years of Islam, is given in Appendix B.
A study of Islamic scriptures reveals that Muhammad was not a original thinker; he did not formulate any new ethical principle or philosophy, but merely borrowed them from existing traditions and faiths. His genius lay in mixing old ingredients of Judaism, Zoroastrianism and the ‘pagan’ Arab rituals into a new panacea for human ills and forcing it down by means of the sword. It is obvious to anyone who has some knowledge of religions and traditions of the time that the Islamic varnish only thinly covers the prevalent Arab rituals and superstitions (particularly pilgrimage to Mecca).
According to Ali Dashti1 Muhammad himself emerges as a shifty character who stoops to political assassinations, murder and elimination of all opponents. ‘Pious Fraud’ is an approved strategy in Islam (called ‘Taqqiya’). This verdict of Muir, one of the earliest English biographers, is accepted by non-apologist western authors. His other verdict which has also been accepted is that in Mecca, Muhammad, was a sincere seeker of truth and religiously motivated, but in Medina he showed his feet of clay and was corrupted by power and worldly ambitions.
Muhammad’s revelations in Medina appear to come very conveniently; and as his pet wife Aisha has put it, not without a touch of irony it would seem, ‘Truly your God seems to have been very quick in fulfilling your prayers’. And Dayananda Saraswati had described the Allah of the Quran as ‘Muhammad’s domestic servant’, as Allah never fails to confirm what his prophet is planning to do in order to serve Muhammad’s cause in a particular situation. Aisha had seen through his game and realized that he made up verses in the name of God to serve his own purpose.
The traditional Muslim accounts of the life of Muhammad and the story of the origin and rise of Islam are based exclusively on Muslim sources, namely (1) the Koran (2) the Muslim biographies of Muhammad and (3) the Hadith. We shall briefly examine their content and authenticity.
The first biography known to us of the Prophet was written one hundred and twenty years after his death, by Ibn Ishaq (d. 768 AD). The original is lost and is only available in parts in a later biography by Ibn Hisharm (and an even later biography by Al-Tabari) who died in 834 AD, two hundred years after the death of the Prophet. The other popular biographies have been written only after the first two hundred years. This long interval along with the other factors discussed below throws doubts on the authenticity of the material available from these biographies. A recent book, ‘The Quest for the Historical Muhammad’ edited by Ibn Warraq (Prometheus Books, March 2000) has dealt with precisely this issue of historicity.
The Hadith or Hadis is greatly revered in the Islamic world and consists of a collection of sayings and doings attributed to the Prophet and traced back to him through a chain of supposedly trustworthy witnesses called ‘isnad’. Six authentic collections written in the ninth century are available, and an encyclopedia of 29000 traditions called Musnad has been compiled by Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 855 AD). Since the Koran does not cover all aspects of the religion and law, and since the Muslims consider the life of the Prophet as the Divine force in action, the sayings and doings of the Prophet compiled in the Hadith along with the Koran guide the jurisprudence of Islam.
CLAIMS OF HISTORICITY
It has been generally held that amongst the world’s major religions, only the historicity of Muhammad and Koran are undisputed and that the details of his life are more historically verifiable than the founders of other major religions. Recent findings suggest that this claim is not true and in fact, there is now a strong view that there has been a large scale fabrication of the prophet’s life and scriptures and that there has been a considerable influence of neighbouring religions and rituals as well as traditional pagan Arabian faiths and rituals. The present position has been neatly summed up by lbn Warraq in his book, ‘Why I am not a Muslim?’2. The reviews of this book have been collected and summarised in ‘Time for Stock Taking’.3
Speaking of historicity, many Indian scholars feel that the Mecca shrine, Kaba, the chief mosque of Islam itself was originally a temple housing 360 idols and quote a Sanskrit verse to prove the same. Some scholars quote some verses of pre-Islamic poetry preserved on gold and leather plates which escaped the destruction after Muhammad took over Kaba. These poems are part of an anthology of pre-Islamic Arab poetry known as ‘sayar-ul-okul’ compiled by Harun-al-Rashid and published in 1864 AD in Berlin. Unfortunately no traces of the old Arabian culture has been left by Islam. Scholars have to pursue this research further with whatever meagre evidence that is available.
Towards the end of nineteenth century, Western scholars began the process of sifting all available information and data on Islam since there was some suspicion that some of the traditions were deliberately forged in order to further the interests of certain groups and families. Wellhausen divided the historical traditions into two categories – the apparently authentic primitive traditions, which have been recorded in the late eighth century, and second, a parallel tradition that was deliberately forged to rebut the first. The second version was found to be full of tendentious fiction.
Goldziher, another reputed scholar of the era, studied the Hadith extensively and demonstrated that a vast number of hadiths accepted even in the most rigorously critical Muslim collections were outright forgeries compiled from around the late 8th and 9th centuries.5 The reason for this parallel tradition can be traced to the politics of competition among the early successors of the Prophet, who had often assumed his mantle after eliminating their predecessors with great blood shed; and had hence to humiliate their memory and that of their forefathers through their version of the tradition, apart from proving their own legitimacy (see chronology of early Islam in Appendix B).
Under the Abbasids (progeny of the Prophet’s uncle), the fabrication of hadiths greatly multiplied, with the explicit purpose of proving the legitimacy of their own clan as against that of the Alids (progeny of Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet). The storytellers also excelled in inventing entertaining hadiths in order to make a fortune by drawing large crowds. Of course Muslim scholars were aware that forgeries abounded and attempted to eliminate many of them in the six authentic collections. But even these were not free from later interpolations and therefore there are several texts of the Hadith in use.
Since the biographies on the Prophet appeared much after his death and were based on these traditions, the early twentieth century scholars working at that time considered them suspect.6 Their conclusions were subsequently investigated by a group of Soviet Islamologists7 who concluded that the life of Muhammad and that of his immediate successors are as ‘mythical’ as the accounts of Christ and the Apostles (discussed later) and that Islam was merely an offshoot of Arianism (a Greek Christian doctrine) and that the Arian Islamites were indistinguishable from the Jews until the impact of the Crusades made them assume a separate identity. In fact some of them wondered if Muhammad was not a necessary fiction since every ‘historical’ religion must needs have a founder.
From the 1950s, Islamic studies received a further impetus under Schacht.8 His conclusions were even more radical and disturbing. He proved that many Islamic traditions did not exist at a particular time by showing, for example, that they were not used as a legal argument in a discussion that would have made reference to them imperative, had these traditions existed. He in fact concluded that every tradition allegedly traced back in time to the Prophet must be considered inauthentic and the Fictitious expression of a legal doctrine formulated at a later date!
Schacht said that traditions introduced from around the time of the Successors (to the Prophet) were offered as traditions from the time of the Companions (contemporaries of the Prophet), and traditions from the time of the Companions to the Prophet were offered as traditions practiced by the Prophet himself. Details from the life of the Prophet were invented to support legal doctrines. He also showed that the beginnings of the Islamic law cannot be traced further back in the Islamic tradition, than to about a century after the Prophet’s death. Thus it did not directly derive from the Koran, but developed out of popular and administrative practices under the Ummayads which diverged often from the intentions and even the explicit wording of the Koran. The integration of the two was done at a later stage.
Many scholars were convinced of the essential soundness of Schacht’s analysis and developed his thesis further. Wansbrough9 argued that the Koran and the Hadith grew out of sectarian controversies over the course of a long period and then were projected back in time onto an invented Arabian point of origin. He felt that Islam emerged only when it came into contact with rabbinical Judaism.
Doubts over the authenticity of the Hadith prompted scholars to take a critical look at the Koran too. As we have seen earlier, Muslims claim the Koran to be a historically verifiable scripture, which is the collection of the revelations of Allah through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet. These revelations were communicated by the prophet to various persons in his lifetime and many others were taken down by Muhammad’s scribes.
According to the authentic Hadith, after Muhammad’s death, the first Caliph, Abu Bakr (ruled from 632 to 634 AD), appointed the former secretary and scribe of the Prophet, Zayd ibn Thabit, to undertake the task of collecting all available material and compile it together. He collected them ‘from pieces of papyrus, flat stones, palm leaves, shoulder blades and ribs of animals, pieces of leather and wooden boards, as well as from the hearts of men’. He compiled all the material in the amazingly short span of two years and handed it over to the Caliph.
The Suras or chapters in the Koran have been so arranged that the longest suras find place in the beginning and the shortest in the end. Thus there is no way of knowing when, exactly the Prophet received a particular revelation. This becomes important since the message of a particular revelation, as we shall see later, is often contradicted by the message of a ‘later’ revelation. Scholars, both Muslim and Western have generally been able to separate the revelations received in Mecca and those in Medina since the message of Allah is conciliatory in the former and aggressive in the latter.
According to traditions (i.e. the authentic Hadith) many versions of the book began to be circulated and serious disputes arose. According to the traditions, the third Caliph, Uthman (644-656 AD) approached Zayd again to edit and prepare the official text. This was prepared and circulated widely and the other versions were destroyed.
It should be noted that during the reign of the third caliph Uthman word was brought from the out-lying provinces that the Muslims in these areas were reciting the Qur’an in different ways. The sequel is set out in the following tradition:
- “Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Sha’m and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Qur’an, so he said to Uthman, ‘O Chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Quran) as Jews and the Christians did before’. So Uthman sent a message to Hafsa, saying, ‘Send us the manuscripts of the Qur’an so that we may compile the Qur’anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you’. Hafsa sent it to Uthman. Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, Abdullah bin az-Zubair, Sa’id bin al-As, and Abdur-Rahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, ‘In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the – Qur’an, then write it in the dialect of Quraish as the Qur’an was revealed in their tongue’. They did so, and when they had written many copies, Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur’anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt.”
- (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, p 479).
This tradition informs us quite clearly that other manuscripts of the Qur’an, some in sections, others complete, had been written out and that they were in use elsewhere in the conquered territories. Uthman’s order that they should be burnt shows that there were serious textual differences between them and the manuscript in Hafsah’s possession.
- “The traditional account of what led to the next step in the fixing of the form of the Qur’an implies that serious differences of reading existed in the copies of the Qur’an current in the various districts.” (Watt, “Bell’s Introduction to the Qur’an”, p 42)
According to orthodoxy, this text has not undergone any change since then and is the standard version followed all over the world.
Historical research, however, indicates otherwise. Wansbrough showed that far from being fixed in the seventh century, the definitive text of Koran had still not been achieved even as late as the later part of the ninth century [In fact, there is a strong opinion among many scholars that the Quran was actually finalized in AD 933]. Thus, a statement of Muslim creed, Fiqh Akbar I, dated to the middle of eighth century, does not refer to the Koran at all, which is quite surprising.
The ninth century also saw the first collections of the ancient Arab poetry seeing the light of day, in which too there are instances of manipulation, as alleged by some scholars. Both have perhaps gone hand in hand with an attempt to prove the antiquity and sacredness of the Arabic language and culture so that God could hand over the Koran in pure Arabic. Very much influenced by rabbinic Judaism outside Arabia, the early Muslim community took Moses as a model and Muhammad’s credentials as a prophet were gradually established in Moses’ likeness. The aim was to have a swadeshi prophet and a scripture in competition with the Jews and Christians!
Both Islam and Christianity, in comparing themselves with pagan faiths to establish their superiority, claim historicity for their founders. But Western scholars have also questioned the historicity of Jesus Christ. They have shown that the gospels were written towards the end of the first century, some forty to eighty years after the supposed crucifixion of Christ, and that there was considerable interpolation afterwards. Thus the letters of Paul do not mention many extraordinary details of Jesus’ life. Even the post-Pauline letters written before 90 AD do not contain any convincing historical details. It now seems highly unlikely that any of the sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospels was ever spoken by a historical figure. Hoffman10 concludes, ‘scholars now count it a certainty that the Gospels are compilations of “traditions” cherished by the early Christians rather than historical annals’.
The Koran extensively quotes from Pentateuch (called Taurat after Torah in Hebrew) i.e. the first five books of the Old Testament. Now the present opinion of the western scholars is that instead of being written by or revealed to Moses by God, it is a work of four different writers and edited by a fifth person around 400 BC. Hence the early prophets are probably not historic figures, but only legends.11
We have already seen that the same applies to Jesus. It is even doubted that they existed at all. Now the question arises that if the Biblical Prophets and their history is itself doubtful, what veracity does the Koran have as an eternal truth revealed by God himself, considering the fact that the Koran too acknowledges the Old Testament to be an intrinsic part of the history of Islam.
The Last Prophet
A group of scholars, Cook, Crone and Hinds12 continuing the work of Wansbrough took an even more radical stand. They regarded the entire traditional Islamic history down at least to the time of Abd al Malik (685-705 AD) as a later fabrication. As a counter check, they studied the contemporary, neighbouring non-Muslim sources like the Greek, Syrian and Armenian. A totally unexpected picture emerged, as a result.
The only facts they could confirm were that a merchant called Muhammad existed, that something significant happened to him in 622 (the year of Hijra), and that Abraham was central to his teachings. But there is no mention of Mecca, no indication that Muhammad’s career unfolded in inner Arabia and no reference to the Koran until the last years of the seventh century. Also, the Muslims prayed in a direction much further north than Mecca; hence their sanctuary could not have been in Mecca. Also when the first Koranic quotations appeared on coins and inscriptions towards the end of the seventh century, they showed divergence from the canonical texts.
The earliest Greek source speaks of Muhammad being alive in 634 AD, two years after his death as per the accepted version of Islamic traditions. An Armenian chronicler of the 660s describes Muhammad as establishing a community which comprised both Arabs and Jews with the aim of conquering Palestine. The break with the Jews is placed immediately after the Arab conquest of Jerusalem.
The oldest Greek source makes the sensational statement that the false prophet who had appeared among the Arabs (Saracens) was proclaiming the coming of the (Jewish) messiah, and speaks of the Jews who mix with the Arabs, and the danger to life and limb by falling into the hands of these Jews and Arabs. The Greek source of around 634 AD says that Muhammad was an imposter, not a real prophet since ‘Prophets don’t come with chariots and swords…You will discover nothing true from the so-called prophet except human bloodshed…He says also that he has the keys of paradise, which is incredible...’
On the basis of available non Muslim evidence, Cook and Crone13 give a new account of the rise of Islam. Muhammad told his Arab followers that as descendants of Abraham through his first son, Ishmael they too had a claim to the land God had promised to Abraham and his seed. His message appeared as Judaic messianism which lead to intimacy with Jews and marked hostility towards Christians. The Arabs soon quarreled with the Jews and their attitude softened towards Christians. But they yet had to develop a religious identity and religious structures. Here they were influenced by Samaritan philosophy. The latter were an offshoot of the Jews but they had a separate identity. They only accepted Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament and had a high regard for Moses. Under their influence, the Arabs proceeded to pattern their faith after Moses as follows
Moses Exodus Pentateuch Mt. Sinai Shechem
Muhammad Hijra Koran Mt. Hira Mecca
Evidence Of Fabrication
1. There is no reference to Mecca in early non- Muslim references. Mecca was supposed to be a very flourishing trading centre as it was on the trade route from South to North Arabia (i.e. from India to Europe) when Muhammad was born, but Crone has shown that geographically it does not fall on this natural trade route. In fact, the alignment of early mosques and literary evidence of Christian sources, suggests that the direction in which the early Muslims prayed was northwest Arabia. Mecca was chosen as a Muslim sanctuary much later in order to relocate their history within Arabia, to complete their break with Judaism and finally to establish their separate religious identity.
2. According to the traditions, Koran had many versions and Uthman destroyed all but one. Similarly Hajja (661-714 AD), the governor of Iraq, had collected and destroyed all the writings of the early Muslims.
3. The Koran is strikingly lacking in overall structure. It appears to be a product of hasty and imperfect editing of materials from a plurality of traditions.
4. Many traditions in the Hadith appear to have been invented to explain the presence of some passages in Koran. Seemingly precise data seems to have been cooked up to provide authenticity. Thus the early historian, Ibn Ishaq (d. 768) was vague about many events, whereas Waqidi (d. 823) gave precise dates and other details for the same events! If so much spurious information had accumulated in two generations, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that even more must have accumulated in the three generations between the Prophet and Ibn Ishaq.
Having looked into the weak foundations on which stands the historical edifice of Islam, we shall next see the message of Koran.
MESSAGE OF THE KORAN
The Koran or Quran is written in Arabic and is divided into chapters called suras or surhas and verses called ayah. There are 114 suras and about 6200 verses. Except for the first sura, the Fatihah, the longest sura is placed first and the shortest at the last, without any regard for their chronology, that is, the temporal order in which they were revealed to Muhammad. The original text, the Muslims believe, is in Heaven, and it is eternal and uncreated. To the Muslim, the Koran remains the final word of God sent down to Muhammad, God’s messenger, through the Angel Gabriel, in perfect Arabic. Not a single syllable can be altered. To a non-Muslim, the Koran although very poetic in many places and exhorting usual morality, is also tedious, repetitive and even shockingly violent.
Sometimes it appears that it is Muhammad himself who is speaking and not God! This difficulty has been obviated by inserting the phrase ‘say’ meaning that God has commanded Muhammad to speak thus. In a few cases the translators have themselves inserted ‘say’, not found in the Arabic original as in Sura 6.104, 6.114, 27.91 and 17.1. Only Fatihah, a prayer or invocation, is an exception. But in some instances this leads to confusion. In Sura 111, where Muhammad’s uncle and bitter opponent, Abu Lahab is bitterly cursed, the words appear to be unworthy of ‘God’ (and even of a prophet).
Even some Muslim scholars and laymen have felt that God could not have called such passages ‘a noble Koran on a well guarded tablet’. And if we were to apply the same reasoning to all parts of Koran, there would be very little that was suited to be the word of God, since very little in the Koran is worthy of a merciful and compassionate, all-wise God. We also have instances of the Almighty God praising Himself and swearing by Himself!
We have earlier seen that there is only one standard text approved by Uthman. But here the limitations of the Arabic script came into play. The text was unpointed (i.e. without dots) and hence many consonants like ‘b’ and ‘f’ or ‘th’ could not be distinguished from each other. This applied to several letters like ‘f and ‘q’, ‘t’ and ‘z’. Pointing was done much later and this led to a lot of confusion. The vowels presented even a worse problem since the Arabs had no linguistic symbols for short vowels. These were introduced much later, further adding to the confusion.
Adams notes, “it must be emphasised that far from there being a single text passed down inviolate from the times of Uthman’s commission, literally thousands of variant readings of particular verses were known”. Eventually in the tenth century, some standardization took place but even this resulted in fourteen possibilities. At present two versions of the Koran are in use. Hence it is very difficult to ascertain the exact word Allah had used originally.
Although the Koran has been declared to be in pure Arabic, scholars like Jeffery have identified around 275 words which may be considered to be ‘foreign’. Of course, Muslim scholars counter this allegation by pointing out that these words, although borrowed, were earlier a part of Arabic at the time of the Prophet. The word ‘Koran’ itself comes from the Syriac, and Muhammad evidently got it from Christian sources. Critics have also indicated the stylistic weaknesses of Koran. Ali Dashti estimates that there are more than one hundred aberrations from the normal rules and structure of Arabic.
Missing and Added Verses
It is conclusively proven there are some missing verses in the Quran and there also appear to be some added verses. For example, there is a tradition in the Hadith from the Prophet’s wife, Aisha, that there once existed a ‘verse of stoning’ where stoning to death was prescribed as punishment for fornication. This is no longer to be found in the accepted texts of the Koran and instead the Koranic punishment for this crime only prescribes one hundred lashes. But the early prophets carried out stoning for adultery, and Islamic law still prescribes it. According to the above authentic Hadith, more than one hundred verses from the original are missing.
“God sent Muhammad and sent down the Scripture to him. Part of what he sent down was the passage on stoning; we read it, we were taught it, and we heeded it. The apostle stoned and we stoned them after him. I (Umar) fear that in time to come men will say that they find no mention of stoning in God’s book and thereby go astray in neglecting an ordinance which God has sent down. Verily stoning in the book of God is a penalty laid on married men and women who commit adultery.”
(Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasulullah, p. 684).
See two passages in which Ubayy ibn Ka’b (one of Muhammad’s most trusted reciters of the Qur’an) and Aisha (the “Mother of the Faithful”) declare that approximately two-thirds of Surah 33 is missing. Both passages are taken from Abu Ubaid’s Kitab Fada’il-al-Qur’an.
Ibn Abi Maryam related to us from Ibn Luhai’a from Abu’l-Aswad from Urwa b. az-Zubair from A’isha who said, “Surat al-Ahzab (xxxiii i.e. Surah 33) used to be recited in the time of the Prophet with two hundred verses, but when Uthman wrote out the codices he was unable to procure more of it than there is in it today.”
Isma’il b. Ibrahim and Isma’i b. Ja’far related to us from al-Mubarak b. Fadala from Asim b. Abi’n-Nujud from Zirr b. Hubaish who said–Ubai b. Ka’b said to me, “O Zirr, how many verses did you count (or how many verses did you read) in Surat al-Ahzab?” “Seventy-two or seventy-three,” I answered. Said he, “Yet it used to be equal to Surat al-Baqara (ii) [Which is ‘The Cow’ with 286 verses], and we used to read in it the verse of Stoning.”
This shows that Surah 33 had at least 200 verses once, and only 73 are left now. When a scholar brought up Aisha’s claim in a debate with a Muslim, the Muslim proclaimed that the passage had been “fabricated” without providing any evidence that the Muslims in the chains presented were inventing false claims about the Qur’an. Abu Ubaid, who was called “the ocean of knowledge” by his fellow Muslims, could not have been ignorant and sloppy in his investigation of these passages.
About the “Verse of Stoning,” which was supposed to be part of the Qur’an but instead came up missing, Ubayy ibn Ka’b says above that it fell out with the other 100+ missing verses of Surah 33.
Shiites of course claim that Uthman left out a great many verses favourable to Ali, for political reasons. Muhammad himself, as we know, is said to have suppressed the now famous Satanic Verses. The authenticity of many verses has been called into question not only by modern Western scholars, but even by Muslims themselves. On the other hand, most scholars believe that there are many interpolations making the Koranic style uneven. Some of them are of a political and dogmatic character, such as 42:36-38, which seems to have been added to justify the elevation of Uthman as Caliph to the detriment of Ali. Of course, any interpolation, however trivial, is fatal to the Muslim dogma that the Koran is literally the eternal, uncreated word of God revealed to Muhammad and thereafter unalterable and unchanged.
Contradictions And Abrogations
Far worse is the matter of abrogation or cancellation of passages in the Koran. The Koran abounds in contradictions and hence Muslim theologians have a rather convenient strategy by which they abrogate or replace certain passages and verses with other verses and passages with a contrary meaning, and which, they claim, was subsequently revealed by Allah to Muhammad. This problem of contradiction would never have arisen had there been a specific chronology of the revelations, which would have enabled us to determine which verse was given earlier and which later. In the absence of it, there is obviously a lot of arbitrariness in determining the time of the replaced verse.
There has been some unanimity in determining the Meccan i.e. early suras and Medinan i.e. later suras. While the former has many passages preaching tolerance when Muhammad’s faith and supporters were still in a minority, the later Medinan suras, when Muhammad was already a winner, abound in intolerance like the famous verse of Sura 9:5, ‘Slay the idolaters wherever you find them ‘. This verse, along with others given in Appendix A, obviously nullifies the earlier 124 verses that exhorted tolerance and patience, and which are quoted extensively by the Indian Muslim scholars to deny accusations that the Koran and Islam are inherently violent and intolerant.
As an example let us take the oft quoted short Sura 109, ‘The Unbelievers’, thought to be a Meccan sura, which says, “Say: Unbelievers I do not worship what you worship, nor do you worship what I worship. I shall never worship what you worship, nor will you ever worship what I worship. You have your own religion, and I have mine”. How can this be reconciled with the numerous examples given in Appendix A (sections on Idolaters and Instructions to Believers) which are mostly Medinan verses and preach hatred and intolerance? A reading of these directives from Allah leaves no doubt that so far as non- Muslims are concerned, the Koran is not a religious book at all but a war manual and a penal code!
We also have strange incidences of an earlier verse cancelling a later one in the same sura. Thus verse 2.234 replaces verse 2.240 (dealing with maintenance of widows). In all, over 200 verses (some scholars estimate the figure to be 500, i.e. about 8% of Koran), have been cancelled or abrogated by later ones.
The doctrine of abrogation makes a mockery of the Muslim dogma that the Koran is a faithful and unalterable reproduction of the original scriptures that are preserved in heaven. If God’s words are eternal, uncreated and absolute, then how can we talk of God’s words being superseded or becoming obsolete? Are some words of God to be preferred to others? And who is to judge this? The doctrine of abrogation has indeed been very convenient to bale out Muslim scholars and politicians out of the difficulties that such questions create!
The Koran is unambiguously monotheistic. No other God except Allah is recognised and this has led to immense intolerance and violence. Now the question arises whether monotheism is essentially superior to polytheism. Philosophers like Schopenhaur and Hume have shown that intolerance is intrinsic to monotheism; an only God is by nature a jealous God who will not allow another to exist. On the other hand, polytheistic Gods are naturally tolerant, they live and let live as is seen in the non-Abrahamic faiths in India and the rest of Asia and the pre-Islamic and pre-Christian faiths of Europe, Americas, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand and Africa. Monotheistic intolerant dogmas like Christianity, Islam and Marxism have been responsible for almost all the violence, totalitarianism and destruction on earth.
But even monotheism after some time introduces mediators and agents like saints, demi-gods and angels and slowly introduces idolatry in subtle form (e.g. Cross, Mother Mary). Islam officially recognises the existence of angels and jinns and extensively classifies several categories of them. Superstitions are also prevalent, only they lake another form.
Eliminating polytheism in Arabia has been hailed as Muhammad’s great achievement, but it is yet to be proved that as a result, Muslims have become better people or that they have attained a higher degree of evolution than those of other faiths. Nor did they evince any need for spiritual solace and were quite content with their customs and rituals.
In fact Margoliouth15 states: ‘When (Muhammad) was at the head of a robber community it is probable that the demoralising influence began to be felt, it was then that men who had never broken an oath learned that they might evade their obligations, and that men to whom the blood of the clansmen had been as their own, began to shed it with impunity in the cause of God, and that lying and treachery in the cause of Islam received divine approval, hesitation to perjure oneself that cause being reprehended as a weakness. It was then. too, that coveting of goods and wives (possessed by the Unbelievers) was avowed without discouragement from the Prophet.’ The Arabs preferred Allah to the old gods because he delivered the goods – lands, loot and women – here and now.
As Crone16 has put it: The Arabs were told, ‘if you hold out…then their property, their women, their children and their country will be yours’. God could scarcely have been more explicit. [There is a whole Chapter 8 in the Quran called ‘Spoils of War’] He told the Arabs that they had a right to despoil others of their women [The “captives of the right hand” are infidel women who can be used sexually by Muslim men, as per the Quran 4:3, 4:24, 23:1-6, 33:50, and 70:30], children and land, or indeed they had a duty to do so: Holy War consisted in obeying. Muhammad’s God thus elevated tribal militancy and rapaciousness to the heights of supreme religious virtues.
The omnipotence of Allah is so absolute that man cannot be said to have a will of his own as will be evident from the verses on fatalism in Appendix A. But as in other cases there is a contradiction here also, as seen in the verses below:
1. As for Thamud, We offered them Our guidance, but they preferred blindness to guidance (Quran 41.16)
2. This is the truth from your Lord. Let him who will, believe in it, and whom he wilt, deny it (Quran 18.28)
Thus man is not responsible for his acts, and it seems doubly absurd to punish him in the sadistic manner as shown above. The Koran describes hell in gory details in order to put fear in the hearts of men as can be seen from Appendix A. Moreover the punishment is perpetual, there is no release from it forever. There is an inordinate disparity between finite offences and infinite punishment.
According to John of Damascus living in the eighth century, the difference between predestination and freewill is one of the chief points of divergence between Christianity and Islam. Mill has said that there is something truly disgusting and wicked in the thought that God purposefully creates beings to fill Hell with, beings who in any way cannot be held responsible for their actions since God Himself chooses to lead them astray. Allah is omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent, yet He is proud, jealous and behaves like a petulant tyrant.
Having reviewed some of the contradictions and intolerance in the Koran, we shall now briefly survey, the Hadilh or Hadis, its companion.
We have seen earlier that the Koran and Hadith were more or less simultaneously compiled so that they complemented each other. Ram Swarup17 has written a brilliant commentary on the Sahih Muslim, one of the six authentic texts with 7190 traditions grouped in 1243 chapters and 41 books as well as the compiler’s notes on them. We highlight below some of his important findings.
The Hadith constitutes a voluminous literature describing even insignificant details of the Prophet’s life. Every hadis has a text (matn) and a chain of transmission (isnad). The same text may have several chains, but each text must be traced back to a Companion (as-hab), i.e. a person who came into personal contact with the Prophet. The Companions related their stories to their successors (tabiun), who passed them on to the succeeding generations. It is said that there were over six lakh traditions, but after much debate, only a few thousand have been accepted as ‘authentic’! Six such collections have stood the test of time.
Muslim theologians do not make any distinction between the Koran and the Hadith. To them the Hadith is the Koran in action, revelation made concrete in the life of the Prophet. In the Koran, Allah speaks through Muhammad, in the Sunnah he acts through him. Thus Muhammad’s life is a visible expression of Allah’s utterances in the Koran. God provides the divine principle, Muhammad the living pattern. Allah with the help of His Prophet has provided for every situation. Whether he is going to a mosque or his bedroom or the toilet, whether he is making love or war, there is a command and pattern to follow which has been faithfully adopted by Muslims wherever they are. The morality of the thoughts and actions of believers is defined and derived from the Prophet’s actions and is valid until the end of lime. There is also no reference to any inner quest, which is the-subject of our next chapter.
The very first book in Sahih Muslim is the ‘Book of Faith’ containing 92 chapters. It is stressed that belief in 41iah iions is not sufficient; it must be accompanied by belief in the apostleship of Muhammad. It holds a wrong theology to be worse than wicked deeds. The second and third books deal with acts of physical and ritualislic cleanliness. The fourth book, ‘Book of Prayer’ is the longest with 203 chapters. The fifth, “Book of Zakat” is on charity tax. Charity is confined only to the believers. Apart from helping the poor and the needy, the funds of the Zakat are also utilised for religious warfare and gifts for new converts. Although Zakat initially provided the wherewithal for the religion’s survival, it was subsequently no longer necessary as the means for survival because of huge war booties, twenty percent of which were appropriated to Zakat.
The sixth and seventh books concern fasting in the month of Ramadan and Hajj, both counted among the pillars of Islam, Many of these practices have been adopted from the pagan Arabs although paganism has been strongly denounced in Islam. The eighth deals with marriage and divorce. Muhammad discouraged self-denial and forbade celibacy. A Muslim man may have only four wives at a time, but there was no restriction on the numbers of slave concubines and women obtained as war booty.
The ninth book deals with business practices and the next three, the tenth, eleventh and the twelfth books deal with inheritances, gifts and bequests. The next two, the thirteenth and the fourteenth books of the Hadith deal with vows and oaths. The fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth books concern crime and punishment. The punishments are quite harsh but a Muslim is not punished with death unless he has killed another Muslim, or has been found guilty of adultery or has forsaken Islam. A woman’s testimony has only half the weight of a man’s.
Jihad And War Booty
The seventeenth book is on the all important concept of Jihad. Theologically it is an intolerant idea; a tribal God, Allah, trying to be universal through conquest. Historically, it was an imperialist urge masked in religious phraseology. Allah made war booty lawful for Muslims and this proved to be the most important incentive for marauding Muslim hordes who overran settlements and nations in the name of Islam. The distribution of the booty among the hordes was always a heated and disputed issue.
The Prophet described war as a ‘stratagem’ while sonic have construed it as ‘cunning’. In the event of an armed conflict one fifth of the plundered booty went to the Prophet. If the enemy surrendered without war, the whole of it belonged to him or to the Muslim victors after him. Nothing was left in the hands of the infidels and what could not be carried away was destroyed. The prisoners were either taken as slaves or exchanged for a hefty ransom. Jizya was levied on the conquered if they were non- Muslims (zimmis. or second class citizens), and besides being made to pay the special tax, they were also required to be supplicant lo the conquerors.
The issue of Jihad is again covered in the next book on Government in which, eternal Paradise as the reward for Jihad is elaborated. Since all territories which are not Islamic (dar-al-harb or region of war) have to be conquered by Muslims to be so converted (dar-al-Islam), jihad was the most important activity of the faithful in any nation.
Spiritual And Political Leadership
A closed politics or civics is a necessary corollary of a closed theology. The Khalifa or the successors of the prophet who constituted the spiritual and political leadership of Arabia had to be from the Quraish tribe to which Muhammad belonged. Members of this tribe were considered supreme in all matters and thus was established one of the most durable and privileged caste in history. The Saiyids, the direct descendants of the Prophet were the cream of this caste. Absolute obedience of the ummah to the ruler is expected.
The remaining books of the Hadith cover various other aspects of mundane life
19 Hunting; rules regarding suitability of animals for eating
20 Sacrifices (of animals for worship)
22 Clothing and Decorations
23 General Behaviour
24 Salutations and Greetings which also covers magic, spells, medicines, Poisons, etc.
25 Use of correct Words
27 Visions and Dreams
Although Muhammad did not prohibit drinking in his Mecca days, he prohibited it later. But drinking of wine and other kinds of alcohol is fairly widespread in Islamic countries especially among the social, cultural and intellectual elite. Pre -Islam Arabs were fond of wine and hence it could not be easily eliminated. The Koran expressly forbids pork as an abomination and this can be understood only if we see these restrictions as attempts of Muslim self-definition, especially vis-a-vis Judaism and Christianity. Pigs were not known to constitute a part of the culinary habits of pre-Islamic Arabs.
Chess was forbidden. Homosexuality was tolerated and therefore prevalent in all sections of Arabian society. The next two chapters deal with the Prophet and his companions. The bodily characteristics of the Prophet have been described in great detail. His many miracles are also detailed. The Prophet’s Companions, especially Aisha, his favourite wife, are also eulogised.
The next four books are
30 Virtues, Good Manners and Relationships
33 Remembrance of Allah
We have already referred to the theory of predestination, subject of the thirty-first book. Muhammad believes that everything is predetermined, ‘Evil one is he who is evil in his mother’s womb’. The next two small books deal with knowledge and remembrance of Allah. There are ninety-nine sacred names of Allah whose remembrance ensures entry into paradise. Knowledge refers only to that found in the Koran and that which should he implicitly believed. The next five books deal with the after-world
34 Heart-Melting Traditions
37 Day of Judgement
39 Turmoil and Portents of Last Hour
Heaven And Hell
Muhammad says that the majority (among Muslims) of those entering Hell will be women, and they will only be a minority in Paradise. He says that he has solved all the problems of the world except those created by women. The poor fare better in his hands. While he will not allow everyone to have his own God, Muhammad believes that everyone has his own devil (qarin) attached to him, who leads him astray – the eastern polytheist theologies see a secret Godhead in man; a prophetic one, a devil!
The book on Paradise emphasises more the description of Hell than that of heaven. And the occupants of the paradise are able to see the tortures undergone by their unfortunate brethren in Hell and rejoice that they have been spared! The Koran describes in great detail rivers of water, milk and honey, flowing in the most beautiful fruit gardens of Paradise and numerous youths of perpetual freshness and beautiful virgin damsels waiting on the lucky inmates. The pleasures of paradise are eternal. Unfortunately the faithful Muslim women are denied analogous rewards. There are seven grades of habitation in Paradise, with the apostles occupying exclusive quarters.
In Hell, a smoky Fire seventy times more furious than anything known on earth will wrap the inmates and large stones will hurtle down on them. Their torment when they are fed with molten metals and the bitterest plants is described in great detail. In some of the seven regions in Hell, there are countless deadly snakes and scorpions to torment the occupants. Obviously the punishment is eternal and for the unbelievers it begins right from the day of death. They do not wait for the day of resurrection like the Muslims. Of course for most Muslims it is only a purgatory with a relatively comfortable environment. Hell is an important elements of the theology finding full scope for hatred and misanthropy.
Allah‘s Mercy And Allah‘s Judgement
The thirty-fifth book deals with the all important subject of repentance. The Prophet says, ‘if you were not to commit sins, Allah would have swept you out of existence and would have replaced you by another people who have committed sin, and then asked forgiveness from Allah’. A man’s sinning is doubly rewarding. It helps him as well as his Maker. It helps the believer to realise that he is a favoured creature and provides an opportunity for Allah to exercise His mercy.
It is not an accident that religious theologies of man’s sinful nature, like that of Islam and Christianity have also sought a God of mercy. Of course His Mercy is reserved for the believers only and the unbelievers and pagans have only His wrath in store. In fact He punishes the unbelievers for the sins of the believers. In this way both His mercy and His wrath is established. Muhammad says, “When it will he the Day of Resurrection, Allah would deliver to every Muslim a Jew or a Christian and say: ‘That is your rescue from the Hell-Fire’.”
Allah’s sense of fairness and justice is no better than that of the believers! Thus the believers have created Allah in their own image. Repentance is not only for the other world, it is very much part of this world also. Apostasy is severely punished. Doubters were seen as hypocrites. Social cohesion and political and ideological compliance were secured by means of social ostracism, psychological pressures, political boycott, and ideological untouchability. In offending the party, religion or the prophet, even more than the after-life, you face the wrath of its strongmen and hangmen. It is no wonder that Bertrand Russel considers Communism and Islam similar – ‘Muhammadanism and Bolshevism are Practical, social, unspiritual, concerned to win the empire of this world’.
According to Muir, one of the earliest English biographers of Muhammad, the ninth sura, ‘The Repentance’ is chronologically the last sura revealed to the Prophet. The Muslim scholars also date it on the occasion of the capture of Mecca, a little before the Prophet’s death. It is entirely fitting that a sura of such bitterness, condemnation, and inspiration should be the last inspiration of a life that breathed such pathological hatred toward the non-believers who constituted then, and do even now, the majority of men and women in the world.
The fortieth book deals with ‘Piety and Softening of Hearts’ and along with the thirtieth book contains several usual moral teachings like kindness towards widows, orphans and the poor, the need to practise charity, and abhors vanity of worldly riches and ostentatious display of one’s deeds. Even here the great theological sin of polytheism does not go unmentioned and the teachings are restricted only to the ummah. There is no elaboration of inner life at all. It is only an outer code without any sublimation of the soul. The forty-first and the last book in Sahih Muslim is called ‘The book of Commentary’ giving superficial information about some of the Koranic verses, particularly the context in which they were revealed.
THE ISLAMIC LAW OR SHARIA
The scriptures alone are not sufficient to guide the follower in his daily life. They have to be interpreted by competent authorities. Islam does not have a formal system like the Catholic institution with the Pope as its supreme head and a well-formed Catholic Hierarchy which issues canons to cover various situations. Instead they have the sharia (fiqh), i.e. Islamic law based on four principles – the Koran, the sayings and doings of the Prophet or Kunna summarised in the Hadith, consensus or ijma of scholars, and kiyas, the method of reasoning by analogy.
Interpreters or faqih, specialists in law, are even now needed to interpret various obscurities in the Sharia. Many schools of interpretation sprang up, out of which four, all surprisingly valid, have survived. The Muslims in India follow the Hanifi school. In the beginning of 900 AD, the Muslim law became rigidly and inflexibly fixed because scholars of all schools felt that all essential questions had been thoroughly discussed and settled. All future activity was confined to explanation and interpretation. This rigidity enabled it to maintain stability over the centuries which saw the decay of the political institutions of Islam.
In spite of this rigidity, rulings by the ulemas (plural of alim or one trained in the religious sciences) are needed to deal with any situation that arises and is beyond the comprehension of the ordinary Muslim. Such rulings or decisions are called Fatwas, which have become particularly notorious after the fatwa issued on Salman Rushdie for his book, ‘The Satanic Verses’. Although a very rigid religion, Islam has given birth to a number of sects over time. These, as well as the position of women in Islam and spiritual cults like Sufis, particularly in the Indian context, are discussed in Chapter Four which deals with Muslim society in India.
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