Archive for the ‘Authentic Islamic perspectives’ Category

Engaging Islamophobes

Engaging Islamophobes

Muhammad Abdul Haqq

As Salamu Alaykum!

I thought it would be a great idea to post a portion of an email that I sent to some friends as an introduction on how to engage, refute, and debate Islamophobes. It is sort of a preamble to my countermanual, a “manual” of sorts on how to deal with Islamophobia and Islamophobes of all types.


I am writing to you for two reasons. The first has to do with how we engage Islamophobes. This is for those of you who continue to comment on Loonwatch. This in no way should be viewed as a personal criticism, and any resemblance to you personally is purely coincidental. I have noticed the tendency among us to debate anti-Muslim bigots with emotionalism rather than ‘ilm, as Allah tells us we should in the Qur’an. Yasir Qadhi highlights the issue very well in one of his lectures. In Islam there are primary issues, secondary issues, tertiary issues and so on. And there are issues that are completely inconsequential from an Islamic standpoint. For example, ‘aqeeda is primary in Islam and tawhid is primary in ‘aqeeda. Zabiha is primary in halal slaughter, yet halal is much more than just food. Yet halal food is secondary. Now in Islam just because a matter is secondary does not mean it is insignificant(We must stop thinking like Westerers who are non-Muslims). Rather this typology is utilized to point out how we Muslims get bogged down debating Islamophobes on secondary, tertiary, and even inconsequential matters.

I originally wanted to write on two subjects when I first started blogging: refuting the notion that Islam is essentially violent and creating a sort of “manual” on how to engage Islamophobes, whether it is daw’ah, debate(remember, daw’ah is not debate), or just everyday interaction. Alas I never got around to it, making the statement “reality and circumstances always foil planning, but never avoid making plans”, very applicable to my situation. Insha’Allah I am returning to the subject of debating Islamophobes, and I wanted to give some “tips” on how to go about it. Insha’Allah you will get some benefit from this.

Never get distracted by secondary or inconsequential issues with Islamophobes, since, chances are,  if they accepted any of the secondary issues related to Islam, they would already be Muslim. The aim of Islamophobes is two-fold:

1. They want to present Muslims as overly emotional psychos who cannot defend Islam in a reasonable manner. To this effect they bait us with serious but secondary matters in order to get Muslims entrenched in useless debates with someone who will never accept the Truth since their hearts are already hardened.

2. To slowly get Muslims to accept the Western paradigmatic framework and concede that Western=Universal. “Progressive/Liberal” Muslims have already fallen for it. They bend over backwards to show modern science in the Qur’an, when “modern science” believes in theories and not absolute Truth, such that what science accepts today can be challenged and even rejected tomorrow. Is this real science, when the word itself comes from a word that carries the meaning of “knowledge”? And these same Muslims are constantly trying to show Islam’s compatibility with democracy, freedom, human rights, women’s rights, religious freedom, et al without understanding that these words mean something completely different in Islam than they would mean in say a Secular Western context.

For example in Islam the concern is primarily “freedom from” whereas in a secular context the concern is “freedom to”. So non-Muslims are constantly bragging about freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and sexual freedoms; in other words freedom to say whatever, believe and practice whatever. But in Islam it is about freedom from evil, such that the best speech is praised and evil speech is discouraged, and people are free to practice, in an albeit limited way, whatever religion but not to do evil in the name of that religion, and sexual immorality is roundly condemned. Integrated thought seems to absent in much of Western culture which seems to be why there is no thought put into the logical consequences of beliefs and actions.

Imagine if we were to say that a religion that believes murder is not only okay but compulsory should be given full religious freedom. This example seems absurd on the face of it, yet the extreme examples highlight that Westerners do not actually believe in freedom of religion, only in allowing religions that do not threaten or challenge their way of of life full freedoms, as evidenced by the hypocritical Islamophobic attitudes towards Islam. This is why the Islamic position is more correct: Freedom to believe whatever you want, but not freedom to do whatever you want, especially if it directly harms humanity or our environment, which has the most direct impact on human survival. So when you hear Islamophobes say that Islam does not allow freedom of religion, that is mere obfuscation designed to conceal the fact that not only does the West not truly believe in its own stated conception of religious freedom, but designed to conceal that the real goal is that we accept their “religion”.

Second example. Saying that Islam is too harsh toward homosexuality and adultery and promiscuity is merely an attempt to instill acceptance of immorality among Muslims in the name of “tolerance” and “enlightenment”. Imagine a culture that constantly calls our Prophet(sal Allahu `alayhi wasallam) a pedophile and a lech for his polygyny, when the aforementioned things, in addition to rape, prostitution, misogyny runs rampant in the West. Imagine the hypocrisy. Imagine the hypocrisy of Christians and Jews calling polygamy immoral and backwards, when their own religious texts do not condemn it. In fact, it is the superimposition of Secular and Atheistic values on “Judaeo-Christian” society that has duped Christians and Jews into thinking that polygamy is not part of their faiths? So you can see the futility of debating someone with such a blind, diseased and dysfunctional mentality, rife with hypocrisy, inconsistencies, and love of logical fallacies. So what is my point?

I think I can demonstrate that with a quote from an Islamophobic poster on none other than Loonwatch:

In the article “ Arabic for right-wingers” we find the quote:

“for a lot of Muslims, for them to be critical of their own religion would be like expecting Christian fundamentalists to look critically at evidence for errors in the Bible.”

Just look at what Khushboo said above:“I wouldn’t compare religion with politics. One is from God (sacred and unchangable re. Islam) and the latter is man-made and therefore, fallible.”

Not exactly a critical attitude is it?I don’t know. I’m not psychic. You may have a very different attitude. But if your attitude is anything like that, you simply aren’t capable of discussing the issues. That isn’t an insult or anything. It’s just a widespread problem found in various religions,” from “greg”.

What exactly is the virtue of being “critical” of one’s religion? In a postmodernist intellectual climate where “everything is subject to questioning and debate” and “there is no absolute Truth”, this is obviously a virtue, but can you not see the idiocy of ever believing that you can arrive at truth when you also believe that here is no such thing as absolute Truth? How can someone criticize Islam if it is not believed that anything ultimately can be true? What is the point of arguing with someone like this? In engaging a person like this we should directly confront their hypocrisy and inconsistency as well as their real agenda. For someone who holds that Islam can never be true, why else would they engage in debate except to try and convince Muslims to abandon Islam, piece by piece. And they do this by going backwards. Start with inconsequential issues then move to the primary issue of Tawhid once they have been exhausted and incessantly refuted on the other matters. Ask someone like this why you should be critical of Islam, yet they should not take a critical look at their own view? Why should we start by considering Western standards as the standard for all truth when the West has moved in the direction of “there is no such thing as absolute Truth”? Maybe it is them who should take a critical view of their own Culture and Intellectual framework rather than criticizing Islam. There should only be three reasons to engage Islamophobes in debate:

1. Correct the misconceptions about Islam

2. Address legitimate concerns about Islam

3. Expose the real agenda of Islamophobes, which is to take you away from Islam by any means necessary, rather than their stated goal of engaging in fruitful discussion.

You should be exposing Islamophobes rather than trying to prove the Truth of Islam. Remember, Debate is not Daw’ah.


Barak Allahu Feek.

Wasalam Alaykum

The Doctrine of an-Nasikh wa’l Mansukh: Abrogation in the Qur’an and the Idea of a Hijacked Religion Part 2.

The Doctrine of an-Nasikh wa’l Mansukh:

Abrogation in the Qur’an and the Idea of a Hijacked Religion

Part 2.

Muhammad Sameel ‘Abd al-Haqq

Definitions of Abrogation

An-Nasikh wal Mansukh

From the dictionary we get that abrogation is abolishing by authoritative action. Some may believe that because it was the ‘ulama who formulated a doctrine of abrogation, that this idea is their own intellectual device to solve the supposed problem of apparent contradictions in the Quranic text. However it is believed that Allah Himself abrogates and another definition would be “to nullify”. However we also find that the early jurists did not always view abrogation in this sense. In nearly all cases what the scholars called “abrogation” turned out to be something else such as specification, qualification, restriction, or addition. Consequently, many jurists did not see abrogation as complete abolishment of a legal ruling of the Qur’an.

The revelations found in the Qur’an deal with a variety of subjects, yet the jurists particularly regarded as important the ahkam(legal rulings). This was mainly because these type of rulings, particularly because of the comprehensive nature of Islam, shed light on the manner of legal relationships between people as Allah wishes them to be observed. The basic message of Islam has alway been the same, from Adam(as) to Muhammad(saws), but it is believed that the legal rulings have varied throughout the ages, according to the circumstances of the respective communities these prophets were sent to. Therefore the things of Islam that are of a permanent, fixed nature never change, but the particular rulings that are merely specific applications of the shari’ principles they derive from change with the circumstances. This inherent flexibility in the Shari’ah has lead to the belief in abrogation of previous revelations and scriptures. It seems only natural that this idea would be extended to the Qur’an itself.

The Arabic words nasikh and mansukh are both derived from the same root word nasakha which carries meanings such as “to abolish”, “to replace”, “to withdraw” and “to abrogate”. The word nasikh (an active participle) means “the abrogating”, while mansukh (passive) means “the abrogated”. In the technical language of the ‘ulama these terms refer specifically to certain parts of the Qur’anic revelation, which have been “abrogated” by others. According to the jurists who support and elaborate a doctrine of abrogation within the Qur’an, the Qur’an itself refers to it and it is not a later development of the ‘ulama, developed following the generation of the Tabi’in:

None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause it to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: knowest thou that God has power over all things? [Qur’an 2: 106].

There are many commentators and other scholars who opine that this ayah refers to the revelations before the Qur’an, which have now been substituted by the itself (See Mawdudi. The Meaning of the Qur’an, Lahore, 1967, Vol. I, p.102. note 109). We understand that the message of Islam was presented to the Arabs as if something new that was introduced in stages. The Qur’an brought important changes to that society gradually in order allow the people to adjust to the “new” prescriptions. This type of gradualism in revelation is exemplified by the three verses in the Qur’an concerning alcohol drinking. The three verses which finally led to the prohibition of intoxicating substances were revealed in stages (4: 43, 2: 219; 5: 93-4). Many scholars have used this as an example affirming abrogation of Qur’an by Qur’an.

Many scholars believed that understanding the concept of abrogation fully was one of the pre-conditions for explanation (tafsir) of the Qur’an. It is also one of the important pre-conditions for understanding and application of the Islamic law (hukm, shari’a). Scholars such as Suyuti(rahimahullah) have said that tafsir or legal ruling is not acceptable from a person who does not have knowledge of abrogation. As in the field of asbab al-nuzul(reasons for revelation, a historiographical discipline) the information about al-nasikh wa al-mansukh cannot be accepted upon mere personal opinion, guesswork or hearsay, but must be based on reliable reports, according to the ulum al-hadith, and should go back to the Prophet(as) and his Companions(ra).The narration must clearly state which part of the revelation is nasikh and which is mansukh. According to Qattan, some scholars say that there are three ways of knowing about al-nasikh wa al-mansukh:

1. Narrations from the Prophet(as) or Companions(ra).

2. Ijma’ (consensus of the ummah upon what is considered nasikh and what is mansukh).

3. Knowledge about which part of the Qur’an preceded another part in the history of revelation.

Further study will suggest not only that reports from the Prophet(as) or his Companions(ra) about abrogation have some serious defects, internal and external, but that they often contradict each other. Further study will also serve to demonstrate that there was never any real consensus about what is considered nasikh and mansukh. In addition, asbab al-nuzul shows that the majority of cases of abrogation were in fact specification or restriction or some other qualification, according to the broad understanding of the earlier scholars of the meaning and application of abrogation.

An example here will hopefully illustrate how abrogation was classically understood and applied:

Narrated Mujahid(may Allah be pleased with him) (regarding the verse): Those of you who die and leave wives behind, they (their wives) shall await (as regards their marriage) for four months and ten days [Qur’an 2: 234]. The widow, according to this verse, was to spend this period of waiting with her husband’s family, so Allah revealed: Those of you who die and leave wives (i.e. widows) should bequeath for their wives, a year’s maintenance and residence without turning them out, but if they leave (their residence) there is no blame on you for what they do with themselves, provided it is honorable (i.e. Lawful marriage) (Qur’an 2: 240).

So Allah entitled the widow to be bequeathed extra maintenance for seven months and 20 nights and that is the completion of one year. If she wished, she could stay (in her husband’s home) according to the will, and she could leave it if she wished, as Allah says: Without turning them out, but if they leave (the residence) there is no blame on you.

So the idea (i.e. four months and ten days) is obligatory for her. ‘

Ata’ (may Allah be pleased with him)said: Ibn ‘Abbas(ra) said: This verse i.e. the statement of Allah … without turning one out … canceled the obligation of staying for the waiting period in her late husband’s house, and she can complete this period wherever she likes.

‘Ata’ said: If she wished, she could complete her ‘idda by staying in her late husband’s residence according to the will or leave it according to Allah’s statement: ‘There is no blame on you for what they do with themselves.’ ‘

Ata’ added: Later the regulations of inheritance came and abrogated the order of the dwelling of the widow (in her dead husband’s house) so she could complete the ‘idda wherever she likes. And it was no longer necessary to provide her with a residence.

Ibn Abbas said: This verse abrogated her (i.e. the widow’s) dwelling in her dead husband’s house and she could complete the ‘idda (i.e. four months and ten days) (wherever she liked, as Allah’s statement says: …”without turning them out …”[Bukhari 6:54]

This report explains clearly which part of the revelation is considered nasikh and which is mansukh. Mujahid(may Allah be pleased with him) was one of the well-known tab’iun and Ibn ‘Abbas(ra) was a Companion of the Prophet(saws). Later on in this series I will present a fuller explanation of this particular case of abrogation situated in the contextual framework of “every case of supposed abrogation can be reconciled without resorting to a doctrine of abrogation, narrowly defined”. The reason I word it in this way is that most early commentators and supporters of this doctrine had a very broad definition of abrogation.

Origin of the Doctrine of Abrogation

During the period when the commentaries were being prepared and when the study of the occasions of revelation (shan al nuzul) as well as of identifying Meccan and Medinan surahs was a subject of serious study, our scholars felt the necessity for a branch of knowledge which indicates and explains the gradual development of the Quranic teachings. A theory was framed that in the Qur’an some ayat are cancelled (mansukh) by other ayat (nasikh) . It is believed that abrogation for Qur’anic verses, was originally invented/elaborated during the 4th and 5th centuries A.H. (late 10th century C.E.) by some Muslim scholars; notably Ahmed Bin Ishaq Al-Dinary (died 318 A.H.), Mohamad Bin Bahr Al-Asbahany (died 322 A.H.), Hebat Allah Bin Salamah (died 410 A.H.) and Mohamad Bin Mousa Al-Hazmy (died 548 A.H.), whose book about “Al-Nasikh and Al-Mansukh” is regarded as one of the leading references in the subject.(Iftekhar Hai. “Case of Misinterpretation & Abrogation Theory“).

I say elaborated because there are many fiqhi and Shari’ concepts that, although not named explicitly in the Qur’an or described in the technical sense they are described in in fiqh manuals, commentaries or other Muslims scholarly works, the new or technically used terms were in reference to concepts already found in the Qur’an. Thus the Qur’an does use terms meaning abrogation and technical terms refer to a pre-existing Quranic concept.

The importance of understanding abrogation can never be understated as it is widely exploited by non-Muslim Islamophobic writers to tarnish the perfection and Divinity of the Book, and used by Extremist Muslims to justify un-Islamic practices . According to many scholars the principle of naskh originally emerged during the conflicts between usuli of different schools of fiqh. These discussions showed no uniformity and it can never be claimed that any type of consensus on abrogation was ever reached, contributing further to the complexity of the issue. Imam Shafi’i(may Allah be pleased with him) and many of his followers held that some parts of the Qur’an had superseded its other parts, but could never supersede the Sunnah; and that some Sunnah had superseded the other Sunnah, but had not superseded the Qur’an. In other words, Qur’an abrogates Qur’an and only Qur’an, Sunnah abrogates Sunnah and only Sunnah, but they never abrogated each other as the Sunnah was a supplement to the Qur’an and both were differing modes of revelation, as it were. Some scholars, even some in Shafi’i’s madhhab, took it further, stating not only could Qur’an never abrogate Sunnah, but Sunnah did indeed abrogate Qur’an as well as itself. The supporters of the doctrine of abrogation based their theory on their understanding of the aforementioned following ayah:

Such of Our Ayat (messages) which We annul or consign to oblivion We replace with a better or a similar one…” [Qur’an 2:106]

On the basis of the above it was argued that the principle of naskh (abrogation) is referred to in the Qur’an itself and is not to be considered a later scholarly historical development. In the discussions on abrogation the supposition was that since the various passages of the Qur’an were revealed according to the needs of a particular stage some of the earlier revelations were superseded by the later revelations. When some of the ayat looked “discrepant” to them and they were unable to reconcile interpretation of one ayah with another they formulated the doctrine of abrogation. There never was, however, agreement regarding the number of ayat to which the rule can be applied to. Ilm al naskh was a discipline, developed as auxiliary to the study of the Qur’an, set out to point out precisely how one ayah of the Qur’an abrogated another, and scholars in this discipline drew up lists of a abrogating and abrogated ayat. From the Qur’an we find,:

Yet whenever We sent forth any apostle or prophet before you, and he was hoping (that his warnings would be heeded) Shaytan would cause an aspersion on his innermost aims, but Allah renders null and void (faya nasakhun) whatever aspersions Shaytan may cast: and Allah makes His messages clear in and by themselves – for Allah is all- knowing wise.[Qur’an 22:52],

showing how the word was used in the Qur’an to signify “rendering null and void” as a definition of naskh. A derivative of this root is also used to mean “recorded”. For example:

This Our record speaks of you in all truth: for, verily, We have caused to be recorded (nustansikh) all that you ever did. [Qur’an 45:29]

Many of supporters of the doctrine of abrogation have taken a restricted meaning of ayat as the ayat of the Qur’an, as mentioned earlier in Qur’an 2:106, whereas many earlier commentators did in fact have a broader understanding of the concept of abrogation, as derived from an understanding of the ayat in question. The classical supporters of the doctrine of abrogation have described three kinds of abrogation:

1. The abrogation of the recital (of the Quranic ayat) as well as the injunction.

2. Abrogation of the recital (of the ayat) without nullification of application of the injunction.

3. Abrogation of the injunction and not the recital (of the ayat).

Some Muslim scholars refused to accept `naskh‘ and declared that `naskh‘ does not go with the holiness (taqaddus) of the Allah. They argued that Allah’s words are too authoritative, to be considered abrogated in human opinion. Abu Muslim Isfahani (d. 332/944) was the first one who refused to accept the ‘doctrine of abrogation.’ According to him abrogated ayat were those Divine Messages which were found in earlier Books (Taurat, Injeel etc.) Allah abrogated those earlier ayat, he argued, due to neglect and deliberate corruption of the Books by the respective followers and hence the contents of those books do not find place in the Qur’an:

And convey (to the world) whatever has been revealed to you of the Sustainer’s writ. There is nothing that could alter His words: and you cannot find any refuge other than with Him“. [Qur’an 18 : 27].

The eminent scholar Zarqani (d. 1367/1948) supported the ‘doctrine of abrogation’ and argued in his book, “Manahil al Irfan” that when Allah replaces an order by another it does not imply that Allah realized something which He did not realize earlier. He who has absolute discretion to cancel any injunction He deemed proper and to replace it by another injunction was aware that the expediency of the order will cease at a particular time. Gradual implementation of the laws of Allah does not imply that the revelation meant for one stage were not good for later stages or that the earlier messages were replaced by the later messages. The tendency of hairsplitting in this issue among the ‘ulama has lead many to erroneous and even dangerous conclusions. Such discussions were introduced which provided justification for the Islamophobic opponents of Islam to argue that the Prophet(as) made corrections in the Qur’an, as and when it suited him. To this we will turn in the next part of the series, Insha’Allah.

Islamic Concepts and the Language of the Qur’an

Bismillahi r-Rahmani r-Rahim

Bismillahi r-Rahmani r-Rahim

Islamic Concepts and the Language of the Qur’an

Part 1. The Basmallah

Muhammad Sameel ‘Abd al-Haqq


Praise be to Allah.

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim, a familiar phrase among Muslims that perhaps may have lost its significance among many Muslims, and of which the non-Muslims may be unaware there is a significance to, beyond mindlessly repeated ritual and tradition. What exactly is the significance behind the phrase and its terminological usage in the language of the Qur’an, specifically the word-phrase bismillah? It is of course familiarly accepted that the term carries the English meaning “In the Name of Allah”. Yet the significance of it goes beyond this, as it is a spiritual concept and not some empty religious concept, useless beyond the doctrine, dogma, tradition, and ritual of Islam. I would like to start a series explaining every Islamic concept as it appears in the Qur’an, insha’Allah, explaining the language of the Qur’an and it’s importance for understanding Islam and Islamic concepts. This series, though primarily for non-Muslims, should serve as a reminder for us Muslims as well.

Translation is something that some non-Muslims, especially those with an Islamophobic bent, seem to take a very nonchalant or even antagonist approach and attitude to. Many have chaffed at the idea that Islam must be apprehended through its primary literary source, which is the Qur’an, a book revealed and written in Arabic. It should be undeniable however that things are indeed lost in translation. But to take this idea further, two things must be borne in mind: There are some things in one language that do not translate into another language and, as far as the Qur’an is concerned, the Arabic language found therein is particular to it, such that one must understand the semiotics of the Qur’an as well as the Arabic language itself. What is semiotics? Semiotics has been defined as a philosophical approach to language signs and symbols, seeking an understanding of their function in language, that includes syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics. Necessary for an approach to understanding are other disciplines as well, including but not limited to, lexicography, lexicology, linguistics, history of language usage, phonetics, grammar and others. And of course the scholarly concept that contextual considerations are paramount is accepted; context meaning historical as well as inter-textual context.

The lazy, perhaps Islamophobic mind, will protest in retort “If the Qur’an cannot possibly be understood except but in Arabic, then Islam cannot be considered a universal religion”. In other words Islam becomes unreasonably difficult to apprehend and not of Divine origin if the whole world must learn Arabic in order to comprehend the Qur’an and by extension, Islam. Making claims about the necessity of learning “classical Arabic” is seen somewhat as an intellectual cop-out, resorted to whenever a non-Muslim proffers an explanation of Islam, Islamic concepts, or the Qur’an that is deemed “uncomfortable”. Seems reasonable, beyond the suggestion of insidiousness on the part of Muslims, except that it must be understood that Islam is a discursive tradition and not a textual, legalistic, ritualistic religion. No one can learn Islam by picking up a book, any book, even if the book is the Qur’an itself, and the Qur’an reminds us that although it is a Complete Book(kitab), it is also a Reminder to be Recited. So for those who are prone to step outside of the tradition of Islam and discount and reject Muslim explanations out of hand, it becomes necessary to become an expert in Arabic, among other things Islam-related. So, as condescending and infuriating as it may sound, although it is not necessary to speak Arabic fluently in order to understand Islam and the Qur’an, or to be a Muslim, if one wants to reject the transmitted knowledge of tradition and learn Islam from other than Muslims, the alluded to expertise becomes a requirement.

The Basmallah

I will begin this series from the beginning, meaning I will discuss each Islamic concept as it first appears in the Qur’an in order to place it in the broader framework of a discussion of the language of the Qur’an. In previous articles I have discussed things such as how words such as ‘islam” carry different meanings if one discounts the nuances of the Arabic language. As alluded to in the previous paragraph I will incorporate a discussion of translation and its significance for understanding Islamic concepts, specifically things that are lost in translation, throughout this series. The first word in the Qur’an is bismillah, so we will begin with an extended discussion of topics related solely to this word, it’s translation, and its significance for a contextual discussion on language usage in the Qur’an. As previously stated one must not only have a knowledge of Arabic, but the Arabic of the Qur’an, sometimes called Classical Arabic.

The normal translation of the particle ba does not carry the same sense in Arabic as it does in English or many other languages. Translated as “in” which carries the meaning “on account of” or “because” in English, something is lost in translation as the Arabic signification of “by”, “through” or more exactly “with the assistance of ” is obscured. A more exact phrasal English equivalent of “bismillah” would be “with the assistance of Allah” or even the prayerful “I seek the assistance of Allah”, with the retention of the literal, plain sense connotation of “in the name of Allah”. Like many Quranic words, whose usage in the Qur’an often has dual or even multiple meanings, bismillah has a dual meaning. And example is the word dahaha, a word describing the Earth that carries the dual meaning of “flat”/ “spread out” and “egg-shaped”. The significance of this should not be lost, as all devout Muslims begin every important affair with this term, and every surah of the Qur’an, except one, begins with the formula “Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim”. Muslims understand that this significance extends to an understanding of the arrangement of the Qur’an as well.

Al-Fatihah was not the first surah revealed to Prophet Muhammd( saws), although one of the earliest Meccan revelations. A hujja, or proof, of the Divine origin of the Qur’an can be found in the final arrangement of the Qur’an, believed to have been finalized by the Prophet(as), not of his own accord, but as a result of Divine Guidance. Reading this very first surah can help the non-Muslim understand the importance of finding a basmallah at the beginning of not only most of the surahs, and in the middle of a passage of the Qur’an, making the number of its appearance 114 times, but also at the beginning of the Qur’an itself. This understanding is lost when we hear or read of historians who tell us that the Qur’an was finally compiled in a book by the third Khalifah Uthman ibn al Affan(ra), years after the death of the Prophet(as), suggesting somehow that its present arrangement wasn’t finalized by the Prophet(as) himself. So, as the Fatiha is considered the quintessence of the Qur’an, encapsulating the whole of the Qur’an in a nutshell, in an almost mystical way, the basmallah is the quintessence of the Fatihah, itself a prayer. So in addition to the entire Qur’an being used liturgically and ritualistically in prayers through recitation, the fatihah was revealed specifically as a prayer, whose essence is to be found in a simple phrase that encapsulates its essence.

The significance of the basmallah cannot be minimized as it often is through translation. To gain somewhat of an understanding of this significance one should understand the significance of the Fatihah. The Fatihah is known as the Opening and is called by many other names that describe its importance in Islam. It is referred to as the Seven Oft-Repeated Verses, since these seven, essential for prayer, are constantly repeated by every practicing Muslim in salah. The Holy Prophet(saws) said in an authentic hadith:

No prayer is complete without the recitation of Fatihat al-Kitab[Bukhari 10:95]

So it is called the Opening of the Book. Because of this it is also referred to as Surat al Salat, the Chapter of Prayer and the Surat al -Du’a, the Chapter of Supplication, as it really is more of a prayer than anything else, as explained above. It is also known as the Umm al-Kitab(not to be confused with the Book as it is in Heaven), the Mother or Basis of the Book, because it encapsulates the entire Qur’an and serves as its fitting introduction. So the head of the head of the Book, the basmallah, reminds Muslims that every action should not be taken without seeking support from the Mighty One. We have in the utterance of a formula a constant practical expression of Faith in Allah.

Usage in the Qur’an

We have already seen how the basmillah is found at the beginning of almost every surah in the Qur’an. But there is no other mention among the scholars of it’s usage in the Qur’an besides this introductory use. This has to do with the fact that it occurs in the Qur’an in only one other place besides the head of every chapter except one. In Surah 27:30 we read:

It is from Solomon, and it is in the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful:[ Qur’an 27:30]

The significance of this is that something done in the name of Allah has all the more importance because of it. And the formula Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim at the beginning of the Qur’an is a proclamation, in the clearest terms, from its Author, of its Divine Origin. As for the one verse where the Basmallah is not found, we find the opinion of the most respected scholars is that this is in one sense because Surah at-Tauba(Repentance) or Surah al-Bara’at(The Immunity), as it is variously known, is not really a chapter separate from Chapter 8(Surah al-Anfal), the chapter referred to as entitled “Spoils of War”, but more accurately translated as “Voluntary Gifts”. Be that as it may, although Tauba introduces an entirely different subject matter necessitating and justifying a separate chapter, it is a continuation of chapter 8, and this serves as an explanation for the missing basmallah.


Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim is a familiar phrase among Muslims that perhaps may have lost its significance among many Muslims,beyond mindlessly repeated ritual and tradition, and of which the non-Muslims may be unaware there is a significance to. It is of course familiarly accepted that the term carries the English meaning “In the Name of Allah”. Yet the significance of it goes beyond this, as it is a spiritual concept and not some empty religious concept, useless beyond the doctrine, dogma, tradition, and ritual of Islam. The first word in the Qur’an is bismillah and a more exact phrasal English equivalent of “bismillah” would be “with the assistance of Allah” or even the prayerful “I seek the assistance of Allah”, with the retention of the literal, plain sense connotation of “in the name of Allah”.

Like many Quranic words, whose usage in the Qur’an often has dual or even multiple meanings, the basmallah is no exception. This dual meaning, itself a proof of Divine origin, should not be lost. As the Fatiha is considered the quintessence of the Qur’an, encapsulating the whole of the Qur’an in a nutshell,  the bismillah is the quintessence of the Fatihah, itself a prayer. The significance of the basmallah cannot be minimized as it often is through translation: the head of the head of the Book, reminds Muslims that every action should not be taken without seeking support from the Mighty One, exemplified by the utterance of a formula that is a constant practical expression of Faith in Allah.

Allahu A’lam

The Doctrine of an-Nasikh wa’l Mansukh: Abrogation in the Qur’an and the Idea of a Hijacked Religion

Quran, Mus'haf_Al_Tajweed.

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The Doctrine of an-Nasikh wa’l Mansukh:
Abrogation in the Qur’an  and the Idea of a Hijacked Religion
Part 1.
Muhammad Sameel ‘Abd al-Haqq


One of the most confusing Islamic concepts to those without the necessary Islamic education, a subject that is the locus of much misinterpretation even among Muslims, possibly more so than jihad, is the concept of abrogation. Abrogation is an exceptionally complex Islamic science involving Quranic exegesis (tafsir), Islamic jurisprudence(fiqh) as well as that of Islamic Legal Theory (usul al-fiqh). It is of course no surprise that this concept is misrepresented as we will see that taqiyya, friendship with Muslims, perpetual jihad, and abrogation are all interrelated. Three types of abrogation concern us here:

1. Abrogation of previous revelations and the religions that arose from them.

2. Abrogation within the Qur’an itself.

3. Abrogation of the Sunnah.

The issues that surround and cause much of the confusion have to do with the disagreement among the Islamic scholars, early, classical, and contemporary. Some scholars and laypersons say that there is absolutely no abrogation, others say that the abrogation spoken of in the Qur’an refers to abrogation of previous scriptures. Still others acknowledge the possibility of abrogation within the Qur’an but that the subject must be approached cautiously, while others say only a few verses of the Qur’an are abrogated. Others come up with lists of abrogating and abrogated verses numbering in the hundreds.The so-called “ayat as-sawf”  or the “Verse of the Sword” (Qur’an 9:5) is said, by Islamophobes and Muslim extremists, to abrogate some 124 or 140+ other verses of the Qur’an advocating for peace, amicable relations, forgiveness, patience, and forebearance.

When I was a non-Muslim nearly 20 years ago I was always baffled at the arrogant audacity of certain Islamophobes that made negative declarations directed at Islam, suggesting that “they were not making up” the things they were saying out of whole cloth. All we had to do was read the Qur’an and other texts of the Sunnah and we would come to see that the detractors of Islam were giving us the full, truth-filled picture. Needless to say that every time I did check, it became apparent that even without placing the relevant verses in context or without an exegetical method, it was easy to see how the Islamophobes deceive. Islamophobes are counting on the laziness of Westerners when it comes to Islam. This is a media-driven laziness that substitutes real, comprehensive and nuanced knowledge for sensationalism, “sound-bite knowledge”, and manufactured narrative that does not allow facts to speak for themselves. It is a laziness borne of fear, where a perceived ubiquitous enemy is best homogenized in order to better deal with the supposed threat. In fact, many Islamophobes will tell you that the facts do speak for themselves; after providing a police-blotter style presentation of these “facts”.

It should be seen how this skews the facts and distorts all information, placing knowledge at the service of a prefabricated narrative. Islamophobes even go so far as to declare that the Qur’an has no historical context. We will deal with this accusation later in the article series, but needless to say, divorcing the Qur’an from it’s context, both historical/situational and contextual as the Islamophobes do, and divorcing oneself from Islamic tradition, specifically the exegetical tradition, is what allows both the Extremists and the Modernists of Islam, as well as the Islamophobes, to engage in unlimited ijtihad and indulge fanciful, heretical, and outlying interpretations of the Qur’an. We will also investigate what the real purpose of affirming the theological and ideological claims of Muslim extremists and linking said claims to Islam.

So what exactly is the narrative that is being pushed in the larger Islamophobic meta-narrative? Well, similar to the Islamophobic explanation of taqiyya, it is another intellectual cop-out designed to instill fear and perpetual, paranoid suspicion in the minds of non-Muslims. Non-Muslims are being lead to believe that Muslims are simply using taqiyya (which they define as lying about Islam to protect and advance Islam) to deceive non-Muslims by not telling the non-Muslims about the doctrine of abrogation in the Qur’an. We are accused of not telling the non-Muslims that the Quranic commands of peace, amicable relations with non-Muslims, forgiveness for non-Muslims, patience and forebearance in the face of persecution from non-Muslims are abrogated and replaced with commands to wage unmitigated, aggressive war until such a time as the non-Muslims convert to Islam or submit to Muslim rule. In other words we are being told that true friendship with non-Muslims is abrogated in favor of pretense when the Muslims are weak,numerically,militarily, and otherwise; taqiyya is defined as lying about Islam to protect the Faith as already mentioned; jihad is only an offensive war against non-Muslims that is primarily fought on account of the disbelief(kufr) of the non-Muslims.

In other words jihad is for the purpose of forced conversion or establishing political dominance over the non-Muslim world. Indeed it is believed by Islamophobes that Islam is nothing more than a politico-military ideology in the guise of religion so it is not surprising that they equate “establishing Islam” with “political dominance over non-Muslims through utilization of military means”. In addition, we are told that there is a doctrine in Islam that says all peaceful verses from the Qur’an are abrogated by violent ones, so don’t believe the Muslims who quote these verses, for the legal(fiqhi) application of these verses have been abolished and nullified by the Qur’an itself. Furthermore, the other part of this narrative is to suggest to non-Muslims that Islam cannot be a valid religion if Allah either changes his mind about a ruling, or somehow could not get it right the first time, so He introduced abrogating verses within His own revelation, changing the Revelation(astagfirullah). The point to all this deceptive, disingenuous rhetoric is to illustrate the human, rather than Divine, origin of Islam and the Qur’an, since Islamophobes neither believe in Allah or, if they are Christians and Jews, that He is the same god that they also worship.

In this series of articles we will attempt to define abrogation as it is described in the Qur’an and as it was understood in the Sunnah literature(ahadith) and by Islamic scholars. We will discuss the origins of the doctrine of abrogation and the views of the various madhahib. Although there are four surviving Sunni fiqh(legal) schools, three Shi’i  schools of legal thought, and the outlier Ibadi legal school, it must remembered that there have been over a hundred legal schools in Islamic history. In fact almost every Companion and tabi’in practically founded their own legal school. This becomes important to remember when we discuss the relationship between the extinct Zahiri legal school, Hanbalism and various issues of fiqh, usul-al-fiqh, tafsir, and various other shar’ issues.

We will be exploring the early, classical, and contemporary ideas surrounding the doctrine an-nasikh wa’l mansukh(abrogation) as well as the related doctrine of takhsis.We will exclusively explore the view of the madhahib, summarizing their views in the latter part of the series, as well as the views of individual scholars who wrote on the topic by showing just what it was that was believed to be the abrogating and abrogated.This will lead to a discussion of the technical usage and understanding of abrogation and the moral as well as the legal considerations and implications of the views on abrogation. We will delve into a detailed discussion of just what is considered even eligible for abrogation. Embedded in this series is a critique of such authors as David Bukay and Raymond Ibrahim, who put a scholarly veneer to Islamphobic fear-mongering and deception. We will examine the concept of a hijacked religion and how offensive jihad and friendship with non-Muslims is intricately tied to this doctrine of abrogation and its understanding. In our exploration we will also introduce a case-type study related to extremism and terrorism to discuss whether the command not to harm innocents in war has been abrogated. In our final discussion we will go into further detail about abrogation of previous revelations and the religions that arose from them, and the much lesser discussed topic of abrogation of the Sunnah, before drawing our conclusions.


The Islamophobic Claims About the Origins of this Doctrine Center Around Three Key Issues:

1.The belief that Muslims believe that the Qur’an has contradictions(which are ostensibly resolved by recourse to the doctrine of abrogation and other shari’ principles).

2. The idea that the ‘ulama were initially baffled as to which verses to codify into the “Shari’ah worldview”, as Ibrahim claims.

3.  The claim that peaceful and tolerant verses lie almost side by side with violent and intolerant ones and the violent verses supercede the peaceful verses.(This is a very important claim with respect to abrogation as we will see later)

4. The operating assumption that the message of the Qur’an was different in the Pre-Hijra and Post-Hijra periods, which non-Muslims referred to as the Meccan and Medinian Periods(a typology that later Muslim scholars adopted).

The additional arguments of the Islamophobes, namely:

1. That the Qur’an has no historical context.

2. That Muslims are simply using taqiyya (which is defined as lying about Islam) to deceive non-Muslims by not telling the non-Muslims about the doctrine of abrogation in the Qur’an. In addition, there is a doctrine in Islam that says all peaceful verses from the Qur’an are abrogated by violent ones, so don’t believe the Muslims who quote these verses, for the legal(fiqhi) application of these verses have been abolished and nullified by the Qur’an itself .

3. That Muslims fail to tell the non-Muslims that the Quranic commands of peace, amicable relations with non-Muslims, forgiveness for non-Muslims, patience and forebearance in the face of persecution from non-Muslims are abrogated and replaced with commands to wage unmitigated, aggressive war until such a time as the non-Muslims convert to Islam or submit to Muslim rule.

4. That true friendship with non-Muslims is abrogated in favor of pretense when the Muslims are weak,numerically,militarily otherwise; taqiyya is defined as lying about Islam to protect the Faith.

5. That Jihad is an offensive war against non-Muslims that is primarily fought on account of the disbelief(kufr) of the non-Muslims.

6. That Jihad is for the purpose of forced conversion and/or establishing political dominance over the non-Muslim world.

7. That Islam cannot be a valid religion if Allah either changes his mind about a ruling, or somehow could not get it right the first time, so introduced abrogating verses within His own revelation(astagfirullah).

8. And that the origin of Islam and the Qur’an is human, rather than Divine.

These arguments will all be deconstructed in the course of this study and in the “Discussions” section of the article. Another dimension to the Islamophobic claims regarding abrogation is the assumption that  “the standard view on Quranic abrogation concerning war and peace verses is that when Muslims are weak and in a minority position, they should preach and behave according to the ethos of the Meccan verses (peace and tolerance); when strong, however, they should go on the offensive on the basis of what is commanded in the Medinan verses (war and conquest)”. This is nothing is more than a lie, but, Insha’Allah, what I will have to say on the matter will be much more than denial, polemics and apologetics. Again, we have authors such as Ibrahim elucidating the Extremist positions and mischaracterizing the mainstream Muslims,  insisting that what they say is a part of Islam must be accepted by Muslims. Islamophobic non-Muslims are playing the role of “Pope of Islam” that Islam denies to even our most eminent, influential, and learned scholars; when the Extremists themselves acknowledge that they must twist and discard actual Islamic principles in order to arrive at their conclusions. It is a twisting of the “twin” shari’ah principles of “what is prohibited becomes permitted in times of necessity” and “changing times necessitate a change in the rulings subject to change” that makes up much of Extremist theology(‘aqeeda) and methodology(manhaj).

Muslims do not believe that any real contradictions exist within the Quranic text, rather it is believed, according to the view of many scholars, that apparent contradictions can be resolved and explained by the doctrines of abrogation and takhsis. However, as we will see, no genuine case of abrogation of the Qur’an exists; or at the very least, if we are to be completely fair, honest, and balanced, very few cases are verified. In any event abrogation does not pertain to or apply to taqiyya, lying to non-Muslims, false opportunistic friendship with non-Muslims, or jihad. The main point of this article series, then, is to drive the point home that there is abrogation in the Qur’an, but no conclusive abrogation by the Qur’an.

In other words there is no Quranic text that conclusively abrogates another text of the Qur’an. The other point is that what will be said in this series does not negate the fact that some Muslims do believe in abrogation of the Qur’an, and that some Muslims Extremists extend this understanding to taqiyya and jihad and the like. The aim of presenting authentic Islamic information is not denial of uncomfortable realities, or “apologetic whitewashing”, as some would say, but clarification. That being said, however, abrogation in principle cannot be denied as will be explained when an explanation of the definitions and applications of abrogation is given. The idea that the ‘ulama were initially baffled as to which verses to codify into the “Shari’ah worldview”,  because of the existence of apparent contradictions is entirely the opinion of the Islamophobes, with no basis in the Islamic tradition. The early jurists where concerned with the fiqhi(ahkam) texts of the Qur’an, that is to say they were primarily concerned with the Quranic texts that could be used to derive legal rulings. They were concerned with ahkam and legal application of the revelation; what could be considered as binding law and what was enforceable by an Islamic State.

Most of the bogus assertions of the Islamophobes amount to reading into the sources unwarranted conclusions, bringing to the text their own operating assumptions and drawing the conclusions they wish, according to their own desires. This is a lesson to Muslims as well, as the the consequences of separating oneself from the living Islamic discursive tradition and making conclusions about Islam is always disastrous. It is exactly this type of unqualified and non-qualified tafsir and ijtihad that I find non-Muslims doing often, which becomes particularly dangerous when engaged in by those who hate Islam and Muslims. Unqualified because the requisite Islamic education is lacking, and non-qualified because people presenting themselves as experts on everything Islam will either never acknowledge that they lack the proper Islamic education and training or will deny its necessity.(It is often sarcastically asked if one should be able to speak, read, and write Arabic fluently in order to understand Islam)

The claim that peaceful and tolerant verses lie almost side by side with violent and intolerant ones is undeniable. Yet the conclusions drawn from this fact, i.e. that the violent verses supercede the peaceful verses, is completely unwarranted; a fanciful assumption indeed.This is a very important claim with respect to abrogation, because in these very same “sword verses”, we can see a sort of “abrogation” which amounts to qualification or restriction. In every single instance, a “violent” verse is mitigated in a way as to render the abrogation of other peaceful verses impossible. As we will see later in the series, the doctrine of jihad held by medieval Muslim jurists was in effect the foreign policy of the time. It was completely circumscribed by the prevailing situation in which Muslims assumed a state of hostility between the Ummah and the non-Muslim nations. With the advent of the modern nation-state this perpetual state of war is replaced by concepts of national sovereignty, assumed peace between nation-states, and treaties guaranteeing this prevailing state of peace(Islam recognizes treaties with no expiration date(hudna)). In other words the doctrine of jihad was determined by circumstance and is defined by historical context. Abrogation of verses of the Qur’an in order to justify an offensive, aggressive military jihad designed to forceably convert non-Muslims to Islam is completely unsupported by the Qur’an and Sunnah. That being said, the majority of Muslim jurists held that jihad was for the security of the Ummah rather than forceable conversion to Islam, and there were much difference of opinion about offensive military jihad and and its relation to abrogation. There is no such thing as “holy war” in Islam, however, medieval Muslim jurists adapted the Christian notion of “just war” to Islam. Please read Dr. Sherman Jackson for a refutation of the Islamophobic claim of perpetual jihad.

The operating assumption that the message of the Qur’an was different in the Pre-Hijra and Post-Hijra periods, which are referred to as the Meccan and Medinian Periods(a typology that later Muslim scholars adopted, but it is much more accurate to use the term pre-hijri and post-hijri as the Prophet(as) was receiving Revelation in Mecca after it’s conquest almost to the day of his death), is baseless. The Qur’an was revealed piecemeal, over a 23 year period and any apparent differences in its message were reflections of Allah responding to the various situations that confronted and challenged the early Muslim community. All of this was done without undermining the underlying them of tawhid. I will discuss the concept of progressive revelation later and how this concept refutes any claim of abrogation.

While it is true that many extremists use a twisted understanding of a doctrine of abrogation, ostensibly that verses revealed later in the life of the Prophet(as) take precedence over earlier ones, such that one ruling set forth in the Qur’an abolishes another ruling, also set forth in the Qur’an whenever there is a discrepancy, this is neither the classical consensus understanding of the doctrine of an-Nasikh wa’l Mansukh, nor the contemporary understanding; again yet another instance of unfairly insisting that Muslims believe something that we do not. There is a majority view, but no real ‘ijma, a point I will discuss later. In order to document which verses abrogated which, a religious science devoted to the chronology of the Qur’an‘s verses and determining which verses abrogated which was developed (known as an-Nasikh wa’l Mansukh, the abrogater and the abrogated). And this is a science that is almost wholly dependent on the science of azbab al nusul(reasons for revelation). Both are prerequisites for tafsir, among other sciences that should mastered. Can we honestly say that Muslim Extremists and Islamophobes are experts in the Islamic sciences of azbab al nuzul, ulum al-qur’an, nasikh wal mansukh, fiqh, usul al-fiqh, and usul at-tafsir, not to mention ulum al-hadith? Of those who acknowledge this deficiency, can we honestly say that they have access to real Muslim scholars who are experts in these Islamic sciences? I think it is very clear that for both groups their concept of ijtihad is the same as the likes of Irshad Manji.


Most cases that were understood to be cases of abrogation of the Qur’an turn out to be takhsis or tazid upon further, careful study. Takhsis and tazid will be elaborated further in the next part of the series where I discuss definitions of abrogation, but I briefly explain them here. Takhsis refers to specification, qualification, or restriction of a general text and tazid refers to addition to a previous ruling.

Imam Suyuti(rahimullah) mentions that there were many verses that served to give exceptions or limitations to other verses, and “those who considered them as cases of abrogation were incorrect.” He also mentions in his monumental book, “Al-Itqan fi Ulum al-Qur’an”, a countless number of scholars authored works solely on the topic of abrogation, and that many Imams said,

No one is allowed to give explanation [tafsir] of the Book of Allah until they understand abrogation.” Our Master Ali (may Allah ennoble his face) asked a judge if he knew which verses abrogated others, to which the judge replied that he did not. Imam Ali said, “You are ruined, and you have ruined others.

Let us keep these quotations in mind throughout the rest of this series, Insha’Allah.

The Legacy of Islamic Intellectual History

The Legacy of Islamic Intellectual History
Part 1.

Muhammad Sameel ‘Abd al-Haqq


Praise be to Allah.

Early Muslims regarded Islam as the completion of Allah’s Message to humanity, as well as somewhat a continuation of the two other faiths regarded as Abrahamic faiths, Judaism and Christianity; and contemporary Muslims have carried this religious conviction to modern times. However, Muslims regard these previous historically manifested religions as corrupted, based on deliberately corrupted texts, hence the need for the revival of Islam. The Qur’an as a Holy Book was regarded as the criterion for judging what is true and false among the previous religions encompassing the Middle-Eastern spiritual and intellectual universe of tradition some would call Judaeo-Christian-Islamic Civilization. Early attempts to show similarities among the three religions were initiated by Muhammad(saws), attempts which should not really be accepted as such if we accept that it was Allah, subhanu wa ta’ala, himself who revealed to the Prophet(as) these similarities. Yet what we can say is that part of the message of the Prophet(as), his proselytizing, his daw’ah and methodology, was to show the Jews and Christians of his time these similarities, also showing future generations as well, through the vehicle of the preservation of Revelation and Sunnah.

After Muhammad(saws), the early Muslim scholars, by reference to the Qur’an and Prophetic Traditions circulating at the time, and an appeal to the knowledge of the Prophets Muslims, Jews, And Christians have in common, were not attempting to reconcile these differences per se so much as they were attempting to show how and why Islam is the correct belief and how the Jews and Christians deviated from that original belief system. For it is believed by the majority of Muslims that Allah always sent his Prophets with Islam, an idea that many Modernist Muslims will have to contend with as they postulate the validity of other religious traditions besides Islam. With the belief that the Prophets always came with Islam comes the belief in the deviation of the People of the Book.

There was a large flow of Jewish and Christian converts into Islam, implications of which have not yet been thoroughly studied[1]. These converts related quite a few traditions that linked the three religions. Traditions of the Jews, the Isra’iliyyat [2], not found in the Hebrew canon, but in many Talmudic traditions and Jewish “legends”, were related and found their way into Muslim Prophetic Traditions.

Christian traditions, many relating to eschatology[3], not found in the Protestant and Catholic Canon(usually), yet found in Christian Apocrypha, the Nag Hammadi Library, Dead Sea Scrolls, and various Gnostic Christian writings were related. Ideas judged to be heretical by many Christians are also found among Muslim Prophetic Traditions. For some this suggests “religious borrowing”, sometimes used to mean “religious plagiarism” or theft/copying. For others, mostly Muslims, this is merely Islam affirming what is true in other traditions, rejecting what is false in them.

Many of these traditions describe Creation, Adam and Eve, Satan, Noah and Flood, Abraham, Hagar, and Isma’il; all concepts and personages found in Judaeo-Christian tradition. Though the traditions in Islam were sometimes related differently from their Jewish and Christian counterparts, they did serve to show how the three faiths were related, how they belonged to the same universe of tradition. The early Muslim scholars also inherited the legacy of rejection of core articles of faith among the Jews and Christians. While Muslims retained the the idea of One God, the Muslim idea of tawhid is quite different from the Christian conception of monotheism, and is even different from the Jewish conception. Muslims retained a similar view of Creation, belief in Angels, but were distinguished by the belief in all of the previous Prophets sent by Allah, many not even mentioned by name. I will not list the ideas rejected by Islam and held by the Jews and Christians here, but the legacy of the environment of interfaith relations, whether that environment was political and polemical, friendly, marked by daw’ah efforts, exchanges of ideas, or marked by war, this legacy impacted the Islamic intellectual tradition in ways palatable today.

The Islamic Intellectual Tradition

This series of articles will attempt to describe and analyze the impact of the Islamic Intellectual Tradition on contemporary Muslim thought. We will do this by giving a brief history of Islamic historiography and its implications for preserving orthodoxy. We will ask ourselves how Muslims transformed a primarily oral tradition to a written one. We will discuss how this tradition was marshaled to deal with the impact of Western colonialism. The 19th and 20th centuries saw unprecedented change in the Muslim world with respect to how it was the first time the Muslim world was largely inundated with foreign ideologies. We will examine how the Islamic intellectual Tradition was utilized to deal with these challenges.

The Islamic Intellectual Tradition, next to the period of Revelation itself, also was the chief element responsible for how non-Muslims were viewed and should be viewed by Muslims. We describe how the Ahl al-Kitab[4] and other non-Muslim groups were regarded and treated by the tradition. In addition, we will be discussing how certain seminal events, trends, and periods in Islamic history informed and shaped the emerging worldviews arising out the Islamic Intellectual tradition; we say worldviews because although the tradition has relative uniformity enabling it to be identified through its distinguishing characteristics, unifying underlying principles and coherence, it is not a monolithic tradition. These seminal events, trends, and periods include, but are not limited to, the Aftermath of the death of the Prophet(as) and the Ridda Wars[5] ; The Muslim Conquests; The Umayyad dynasty; The Abbasid Revolution and Dynasty; The Medieval Period; Islamic Philosophy; The Crusades; The Mongol Invasions and Conversion[6]; and the perceived Ottoman Decline. And finally we describe and analyze the impact of these events on the Islamic tradition as well as the implications of the responses of those working within the broad tradition for contemporary Muslims.

The term Islamic Intellectual History encompasses many disciplines, so it is proper to conceptualize the Islamic Intellectual Tradition as the sum of the intellectual discursive traditions found among the Muslim community; and we will discuss the relevant disciplines in some detail. Islamic Historiography, Fiqh and other major Islamic Sciences, the Islamic philosophical tradition, Islamic Heresiology, and the institutionalized Sufi tradition are all distinctive traditional strands in the broad intellectual tradition which have all contributed to the combined legacy of the Islamic Intellectual Tradition as a whole. Throughout this series we will see how Islamic education and the ‘ulama also played a key role in the development and impact of the Islamic Intellectual Tradition as well. We will be asking and attempting to answer a number of key questions in this series: What exactly is the Islamic Intellectual Tradition and what is its paradigmatic frame of reference?; How was it utilized to deal with the challenges Muslims faced and how was it marshaled and relied upon to respond to specific crises?; Who were some of its major luminaries, what were their ideas and what was their influence?;  What are some of the implications of its legacy for interfaith dialogue and relations?; What was the impact of the Islamic Intellectual Tradition on contemporary Muslim thought?; And how did the Islamic Intellectual tradition affect the broader world? Other important questions will also arise during the course of this series.


The legacy of the Islamic Intellectual Tradition is to be found in how contemporary Muslims view themselves, other Muslims, and people of other faiths, particularly the People of the Book- Jews and Christians. It also leaves behind a legacy of two key issues: just what constitutes authority in Islam and what is meant by tradition in Islam? Clearly its legacy informs and shapes the Muslim worldview in the contemporary period. While it is clear that Muslim scholars disagreed with many core articles of faith found in other religious traditions, there was also a  need to reconcile this rejection with the belief that Islam was a continuation of the religion of Abraham. Early Muslim scholars did this by utilizing a method that can only be regarded as what passed for comparative religion at the time. The scholars tried to show that Islam was the perfection of Allah’s Message to humanity and any divergence among other faith groups were viewed as indications of historical, deliberate corruption or misunderstanding. The intellectual environment surrounding the elucidation, propagation, and preservation of the ideas found in the texts of Qur’an and Sunnah determined the intellectual trajectory of the subsequent and consequent Islamic Intellectual Tradition. It cannot be denied that this and the resultant daw’ah of the early Muslims also played a key role in shaping the tradition. However we cannot conclude that the Islamic Intellectual tradition was largely reactionary, as internal dynamics and the belief that the tradition was to be put in the service of the perceived mission to spread Islam to the world at large also determined the character of the tradition. And one must never forget the over-arching theme and impetus of this tradition: worship of Allah alone and seeking nearness to Him. Allahu A’lam.



1. Many are unaware that it is these types of reports that are largely responsible for beliefs surrounding the Banu Qurayza “massacre”, for instance.

2. The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) has already cautioned us against this source of knowledge (Israilliyyat):

Narrated Abu Huraira (RadhiyAllahu Anhu): The people of the scripture used to recite the Torah in Hebrew and they used to explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. On that Allah’s apostle said: ‘Do not believe the people of the scripture or disbelieve them, but say: “We believe in Allah and what is revealed to us”‘ . [Bukhari]

Similarly Ibn Mas’ud (RadhiyAllahu Anhu), the well-known Companion, is reported to have said: ‘Do not ask the Ahl al-Kitab about anything (in Tafsir), for they cannot guide you and are themselves in error….’

The rules relating to Israelite reports:

According to Usul Al Tafseer, Isra’iliyyat are narratives which have reached us through Jews and Christians. It may be noted that early commentators used to write down all sorts of narrations which reached them from an identified or unidentified source. Many of these narrations were straight Judaica. Therefore, it is equally necessary to know what they really are.

The reality is that some noble Companions and their Successors,ra, first belonged to the religion of the people of the Book, later on when they became Muslims and learned the Qur’an, they came across several events relating to past communities in the Qur’an and which they had also read in the books of their previous religion. Therefore, while referring to the events mentioned in the Qur’an they would describe other details before Muslims which they had seen in the books of their old religion.

These very details have entered into the books of Tafseer,[also Sira, and Hadith], under the name of ‘Isra’iliyyat’. Hafiz ibn Kathir,ra, who is one of the authentic research scholars, has categorized them into three different kinds:

1) Narrations, the truth of which is proved from other evidences of ‘the Qur’an and Sunnah, for instance, the drowning of Pharoah and the ascent of Sayyidna Musa (Alaihis Salam) onto Mount Tur (Sinai).

2) Narrations the falsity of which is proved from other evidences of the Qur’an and Sunnah, for instance, it appears in Judaic narrations that Sayyidna Sulayman (Alaihis Salam) had become (God forbid) an apostate in his later years. Its refutation is proved from the Qur’an. It is said there:

‘It was not Sulayman who became an infidel, but the devils did become infidels’ [2:102].

To cite yet another example, it finds mention in Judaic narration’s that (God forbid) Sayyidna Dawud (Alaihis Salam) (David) committed adultery with the wife of his general (Uriah), or, having him killed through all sorts of contrivances, ended up marrying his wife. This too is a blatant lie, and taking such narrations to be false is imperative.

3) Narrations regarding which the Qur’an, the Sunnah and the Shariah are “silent”, such as the injunctions of Torah etc., are subjects about which silence is to be observed as taught by the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) neither confirm, nor falsify. There is, however, a difference of opinion among scholars whether or not reporting such narrations is permissible. Hafiz ibn Kathir,ra, has given the decisive word by saying that reporting these is permissible all right but doing so is useless because they cannot be taken as authentic.[Muqaddamah Tafseer ibn Kathir]

[See: Ma’ariful Quran]

These set of rules are applied by Hadith scholars when dealing with Isra’iliyyat material. These rules are based on the Hadith of the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) which I have mentioned above.

About the transmitter Wahb Ibn Munabbih (Rahmatullahi Alaih):

Wahb Ibn Munabbih transmitted both Isra’iliyyat and Islamic traditions. It does not make him or any other transmitter untrustworthy or a fabricator.

Hafiz Ibn Hajar (Rahamtullahi Alaih) says, ” Wahb Ibn Munabbih Ibn Kamil al-Yamani, the father of `Abdullah Al Abnawi. He is trustworthy.” [Taqrib al-Tahdhib]

Imam al-Suyuti (Rahamtullahi Alaih) includes him in his book of Hadith memorisers. [Tabaqat al-Huffadh)]

Many of the Hadith scholars have recorded his Hadith, including al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud and al-Tirmidhi (Rahamtullahi Alaih).

So the conclusion here is that Wahb Ibn Munabbih and others like Ka’ab Ahbar, Hammam Ibn Munabbih (Rahmatullahi Alaihim) are considered to be trustworthy even though they transmitted Isra’iliyyat traditions along with the Islamic ones because they did not attribute these Isra’iliyyat traditions to the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam).

So, the narration above will be rejected totally as this contradicts the texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah.

And Only Allah Ta’ala Knows Best.

Moulana Qamruz Zaman
London, UK

3. Eschatology (pronounced /ˌɛskəˈtɒlədʒi/ ( listen); from the Greek ἔσχατος/ἐσχάτη/ἔσχατον, eschatos/eschatē/eschaton meaning “last” and -logy meaning “the study of”, first used in English around 1550) is a part of theology, philosophy, and futurology concerned with what are believed to be the final events in history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity, commonly referred to as the end of the world or the World to Come. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “concerned with ‘the four last things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell’”.Regarding mysticism, the phrase refers metaphorically to the end of ordinary reality and reunion with the Divine. In many religions it is taught as an existing future event prophesied in sacred texts or folklore. More broadly, eschatology may encompass related concepts such as the Messiah or Messianic Age, the end time, and the end of days.

4. (Arabic: “People of the Book”), in Islāmic thought, those religionists such as Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians who are possessors of divine books (i.e., the Torah, the Gospel, and the Avesta), as distinguished from those whose religions are not based on divine revelations. The latter are an imprecisely identified group referred to as Sabaeans but also considered “People of the Book.”

5. The Ridda wars (Arabic: حروب الردة), also known as the Wars of Apostasy, were a set of military campaigns against the rebellion of several Arabian tribes against the Caliph Abu Bakr(ra) during 632 and 633 AD, after Prophet Muhammad(saws) died. The revolts, in Islamic historiography later interpreted as religious, were in reality mainly political. However, these revolts also had a religious aspect: Medina had become the center of a social and political system, of which religion was an integral part; consequently it was inevitable that any reaction against this system would have a religious aspect

The Encyclopedia of Islam. New Edition. Vol. 1, p. 110.

6. For a time the Il-Khans tolerated and patronized all religious persuasions—Sunni, Shīʿite, Buddhist, Nestorian Christian, Jewish, and pagan. But in 1295 a Buddhist named Maḥmūd Ghāzān became khan and declared himself Muslim, compelling other Mongol notables to follow suit. His patronage of Islamicate learning fostered such brilliant writers as Rashīd al-Dīn, the physician and scholar who authored one of the most famous Persian universal histories of all time. The Mongols, like other Islamicate dynasties swept into power by a tribal confederation, were able to unify their domains for only a few generations.

The Exemplar

Hadith Oliyankara Juma Masjid

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The Exemplar

Muhammad Sameel ‘Abd al-Haqq

Bismillah Alhamdulillah wa salatu wa sallam ‘ala Rasulillah


The exemplar is a person who is the embodiment of moral virtue. Many Muslims have fallen prey to an infiltration into Islamic culture of this idea of having heroes and idols, specifically non-Muslim heroes and idols. It should go without saying that Muslims should not be idolizing any human being. This is a clear violation of tawhid. The Prophet(as) chastised some of his Sahaba, by saying that they used to worship their priests and rabbis, which they denied.

They take their rabbis, priests and monks or ascetics to be their Lords* besides Allah. And they take as their Lord, the Messiah son of Mary. Yet they were commanded to worship but One God. There is no god but He. Praise and Glory to Him, He is far too Glorious for what they ascribe to Him. [Quran 9:31]

Say, “Shall I take for my master other than Allah Who is the Initiator of the heavens and the earth? And He provides all without return. Feeds but is not fed.” Say, “ I have been commanded to be the foremost among those who surrender to Him and ascribe not divinity besides Him.” [Quran 6:14]

Do they ascribe to Him as partners things that can create nothing, but are themselves created? [Quran 7:191]

(Allah ta’ala says) I am so self-sufficient that I am in no need of having an associate. Thus he who does an action for someone else’s sake as well as Mine will have that action renounced by Me to him whom he associated with Me.[Hadith – Qudsi 5]

Imam Ahmad, At-Tirmidhi and Ibn Jarir At-Tabari recorded a Hadith via several chains of narration, from `Adi bin Hatim r.a., who was a Christian during the time of Jahiliyya … The Messenger of Allah recited this Ayah;

اتَّخَذُواْ أَحْبَـرَهُمْ وَرُهْبَـنَهُمْ أَرْبَاباً مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ

(They took their rabbis and their monks to be their lords besides Allah). `Adi commented, “I said, `They did not worship them.”’ The Prophet said,

«بَلَى إِنَّهُمْ حَرَّمُوا عَلَيْهِمُ الْحَلَالَ وَأَحَلُّوا لَهُمُ الْحَرَامَ فَاتَّبَعُوهُمْ فَذَلِكَ عِبَادَتُهُمْ إِيَّاهُم»

Yes they did. They (rabbis and monks) prohibited the allowed for them (Christians and Jews) and allowed the prohibited, and they obeyed them. This is how they worshipped them.

It is clear from the above hadith that people practically worshiped their religious leaders in a form of minor shirk. Yet today we see this occurring as well. But it has extended to Muslims idolizing non-Muslims. Does this mean that Muslims should not admire other human beings, especially if they are not Muslims? Certainly not, but this is quite different from the minor shirk that we are talking about. Only three types of persons are eligible for emulation: Prophets, Messengers, alayhi salam, and saints/virtuous Muslims. And even so, no human being is entitled to unlimited emulation and obedience(taqlid), absolutely no human is entitled to worship, even “hero-worship”, and idolatry is absolutely forbidden(haram), as we know. We will first discuss wilaya and then Prophets and Messengers.

Not many outside of Islam are aware of this idea of Muslim saints. And many Muslims are opposed to this idea; possibly out of ignorance, possibly because they understand by saint something akin to the idea of saintliness found in Hinduism and Catholicism, or quite possibly because of a dislike of Sufism. As Shaykh Dr. Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt states:

“At the moment some are denying the idea of Sufism, after witnessing some innovations by those who call themselves Sufis…..”

There is a key difference between the Muslim saint as exemplar and what a Westerner normally thinks of when thinking about just who is a saint and what constitutes sainthood. People seem to normally associate saints with “mysticism”, extreme ascetic practices such a s self-denial, self-abnegation, celibacy, “leaving” behind the world of the profane and mundane, among other practices. Others associate saints with councils voting on who has reached the level of sainthood. In other words someone other than Allah decides who is a saint, and a person becomes recognized as a saint after his/her death. All of this is in contravention to Islam. What gives humans who are not themselves saints the right to declare someone a saint. Ultimately it is only Allah who confers this status upon His servants, and saints are known in life. Perhaps the more appropriate words would be “friend of God”, a title we find conferred on Ibrahim(as) by Allah Himself.

‘Allah is the friend of those who believe: He brings them out of every kind of darkness into light. And those who disbelieve, their friends are the transgressors who bring them out of light into every kind of darkness. These are the inmates of the Fire; therein shall they abide’ [Qur’an 2 :  258]

‘Surely, the nearest of men to Abraham are those who followed him, and this Prophet and those who believe; and Allah is the friend of believers’ [ Qur’an 3:69]

But God knows best who are your enemies: and none can befriend as God does, and none can give succour as God does”. [Qur’an 4:45]

“For Allah did take Ibrahim for (an intimate) friend “ [Qur’an 4:125]

In Islam these saints/ “friends of God” exemplify the ideal of simultaneously living in the world and being beyond this world, similar to the Christian idea “be in the world, but not of the world”. Celibacy, monasticism, and various other ascetic practices such as extreme fasting and self-flagellation are against Islam.

The acceptable ascetic practices are seen to be instrumental to enlightenment, not an end in and of themselves, and an unnecessary continuance of them is seen as an aberration resulting in and from misunderstanding. Sufis therefore reject extremism and maintain that the path to sainthood is achieved through the initial desire to pray as if one perceives that Allah is in front of them.

One day while the Prophet was sitting in the company of some people, (The angel) Gabriel came and asked, “What is faith?” Allah’s Apostle replied, ‘Faith is to believe in Allah, His angels, (the) meeting with Him, His Apostles, and to believe in Resurrection.” Then he further asked, “What is Islam?” Allah’s Apostle replied, “To worship Allah Alone and none else, to offer prayers perfectly to pay the compulsory charity (Zakat) and to observe fasts during the month of Ramadan.” Then he further asked, “What is Ihsan (perfection)?” Allah’s Apostle replied, “To worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you cannot achieve this state of devotion then you must consider that He is looking at you.” Then he further asked, “When will the Hour be established?” Allah’s Apostle replied, “The answerer has no better knowledge than the questioner. But I will inform you about its portents.
1. When a slave (lady) gives birth to her master.
2. When the shepherds of black camels start boasting and competing with others in the construction of higher buildings. And the Hour is one of five things which nobody knows except Allah.
The Prophet then recited: “Verily, with Allah (Alone) is the knowledge of the Hour–.” (31. 34) Then that man (Gabriel) left and the Prophet asked his companions to call him back, but they could not see him. Then the Prophet said, “That was Gabriel who came to teach the people their religion.” Abu ‘Abdullah said: He (the Prophet) considered all that as a part of faith .[Bukhari 1:42 Narrated By Abu Huraira]

Two key ideas about “sainthood” or wilaya should be noted here:

1. In conjunction with the idea of only Allah conferring upon His servants the status of sainthood is the idea that only saints recognize other saints. This seems to be a preventative measure against worship in the form of minor shirk and taqlid. Yet one can ask if no one besides other saints can recognize another saint, how do we recognize one as such, and by extension identify this person as an exemplar? Surely Muslims can recognize a virtuous person, despite the caution in Islam of declaring to know what is in another person’s heart? This key concept is very important and we will return to it later.

2. Of great significance to the idea of “sainthood” is the idea of miracles. Whether we believe that Allah confers on individuals besides His Prophets and Messengers the ability to perform miracles, the Sufis have a belief that kiramat(miracles) are not to be publicly advertised, but concealed. Yet this is precisely what we see among non-Muslim “holy men”, people flocking to these “saints” in order to receive blessings from them on account of their widely publicized miracles.

Along with the rejection of continued, ritualized asceticism, we find constant mention of the virtue of moderation in Islam. And we now return to the original idea of this article, that exemplars are the embodiment of moral virtue, to discuss Prophets and Messengers, alayhi salam, as exemplars. The contemplative life( fikr) and constant remembrance of Allah(dhikr) will lead to a type of moral character that engenders moral virtue. We are told that in the Prophets, alayhi salam, are the best examples of moral behavior for mankind, and that Prophet Muhammad(saws) is the pinnacle of this moral virtue which is to to be emulated. From this we can understand that although saints are exemplars, our focus should be on emulating the moral character of the Prophet(as) and embodying his moral virtues in our lives. Indeed in Islam we know to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet(as). Following his Sunnah is considered a virtuous act. So, because it is only saints who recognize other saints, since Sufis have a saying that the person who calls himself a Sufi is not a real Sufi, and since even though Muslims can recognize a virtuous person, despite the caution in Islam of declaring to know what is in another person’s heart, our role model, as Muslims, is the Prophet Muhammad, sal Allahu alayhi wa sabihi wa sallam.


We will define virtuous character as that character that is exemplified by the disposition to act in moderation and to exhibit excellence. Excellence is defined as putting the moral principles of the Qur’an to practice and taking the Sunnah of the Prophet as a model worthy of emulation. Moral virtue is the result of habit, and the Shari’ah has mandated certain actions that if done habitually will bring the worshiper closer to Allah, such as salat and dhikr, and will culminate in the realization of a morally virtuous character. Coupled with this is the idea of sincerity and intention, for no one who does these acts without sincerity and the intention of seeking the pleasure of Allah will accomplish any kind of moral virtue in themselves. Charity for the poor, being slow to anger, treating others kindly, and indeed all acts of worship from the Shari’ah, are acts that fall into the dual category of deeds that create moral virtue when done with the right intention and with sincerity, and deeds that reflect moral virtue, when done voluntarily with the right intention. Allahu A’lam

The Reality of Gender Equality in Islam

Portrait of a girl, 21st century, meant to loo...

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The Reality of Gender Equality in Islam

Muhammad Sameel ‘Abd al-Haqq


Praise be to Allah.

One of the most provocative and controversial topics in Islam, at least for Westerners, is the status of women in Islam; especially with respect to Western ideas of gender equality. Are Muslim women really oppressed, and if so, to what extent? In this series of articles we will attempt a discussion of the gender role perceptions among Muslims and non-Muslim Westerners. Many fail to see that the perspective of the observer determines to a large degree what equality means. In this world of cultural relativism, and relativism in general, an unfortunate consequent side effect is the subjectivism of notions of equality. Equality obviously may mean different things for Muslim women versus Western women, and even within the Muslim community Muslim women may differ in their respective personal views about what it means to be equal to men. This is taken as a given. Yet whenever a discussion of the objective reality of gender equality surfaces, the Western concept of it becomes the acceptable one by definition. We will attempt to briefly introduce the subject of gender equality here by looking narrowly at the topic from the perspective of the concept of spiritual equality in Islam.

First a distinction must again be made between what Islam is, based on the discourses found in the Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet(as), and what Muslims actually do based on cultural practices and societally created and accepted norms. Many Westerners look narrowly at what has been done in the name of Islam and what continues to be practiced with respect to Muslim women and believe that this is what Islam truly advocates. Many examples include female infanticide, female genital mutilation, forced seclusion of women, forced marriages, sexual slavery, and forced/enforced veiling of women. And some Muslim scholars aren’t helping the issues when they make pronouncements and fatawa theologically justifying these practices. This topic will be approached and discussed from two main perspectives; that of the Muslim American female convert to Islam, and the perspective of male Sunni scholars of Islam. Other categories of Muslims will be looked at in other articles in the series. These perspectives will be compared and contrasted with the views of several Muslim intellectuals.

English convert to Islam, Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, is the author of over thirty books on the subjects of Islam and gender equality. She has written an article that was posted on the site, which is a website for “westerners seeking knowledge and understanding of Islam”, as was written on its front page. It is “theologically” motivated and geared towards theologically motivated “western converts” to Islam, and it was founded by a “Western” former Christian. According to Maqsood, the Qur’an explicitly states that men and women are equal in the sight of Allah and that “men and women were created from a single soul and are moral equals”. No husband, or any man for that, matter is a woman’s master. This quote from the article summarizes her viewpoint on the issue:

While the spirit of Islam is clearly patriarchal, it regards men and women as moral equals.  Moreover, although a man is technically the head of the household, Islam encourages matriarchy in the home. women may not be equal to men in the manner defined by     Western feminists, but their cores difference from men are acknowledged, and they have  rights of their own that do not apply to men

The Muslim Women’s League is an American Muslim women’s organization that operates and maintains a website. One of their stated goals is to work to “implement the values of and reclaim the status of women as free, equal and vital contributors to society”. The articles on the site that deal with gender equality issues always begin by stressing that men and women are spiritual equals, and both are morally responsible for their actions in the eyes of Allah. Quranic quotes such as the following from the article, “Gender Equality in Islam”, are used to illustrate this point:

I shall not lose the sight of the labor of any of you who labors in My way, be it man or  woman; each of you is equal to the other[Qur’an 3:195]

According to the author of this article  “the Qur’an states that both sexes are deliberate and independent and there is no mention of Eve being created out of Adam’s rib or anything else. Even the issue of which sex was created first is not specified, implying that for our purposes here on earth it may not matter”, and the following quote from the Qur’an is used to emphasize the point:

O mankind! Be conscious of your Sustainer, who created you out of one living entity(nafs), and out of it created its mate(zawj), and out of the two spread abroad a multitude of men and women. And remain conscious of Allah, in whose name you demand your rights from one another, and of these ties of kinship. Verily, Allah is ever watchful over you![Qur’an 4:1]

The article aptly illustrates that the Qur’an, which contains the original, primary source of Islamic belief, practices, and ideals, does not support the idea of gender inequality between the sexes. So what exactly is the nature of this gender equality, one might ask:

As equal, independent creations of God, the ultimate role of men and women is to serve as vice-regents on earth, to worship God and follow His commands so that we may return to Him. Both men and women share this responsibility, which constitutes our basic role  in life. The Qur’an outlines the attributes believing men and women should try to live by, but in no specific way are told in what capacity each individual man and woman should practice these.

Say: Behold, my prayer, and all my acts of worship, and my living and my dying are for God alone[Qur’an 6:163].

This verse was addressed to the Prophet[saws] but serves as an inspiration to all, reveals that our vicegerency is not only spiritual, but must     be consolidated with actual service. The Qur’an does not distinguish between a man and a woman’s vicegerency. Each sex has the ability to contribute to successive generations, as implied by the term khalifah in the Qur’an(viceregeant). But that doesn’t limit a  woman’s vicegerency solely to bear or rear children. There is no judgment made in the Qur’an made against barren women a woman who chooses not to have children, or a  young woman who dies before childbearing with one that has many children. Only two of  the Prophet’s wives even bore children with him, Khadija and Mariya, [ra]. Other wives such as Hafsa, Aisha and Zaynab,[ra], did not bear any children, and there is no evidence  that they were discounted for this.

Dr. Jamal Badawi is a well known and respected scholar and author on Islamic topics. An online book, “Gender Equity in Islam” , was authored by him that can be found on the website A continuing theme in the Qur’an is the idea of the spiritual, therefore the fundamental equality between the sexes in the eyes of Allah. Like the previous writers he also utilizes well placed quotes from the Qur’an to illustrate the point of spiritual equality between genders.

O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even against  yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah  can best protect both. Follow not the desires (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort(justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well acquainted with all that you do.[Quran 4:135]

The believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another: they enjoin what is right  and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayer and practice regular charity and obey Allah and His Messenger.On them will Allah pour His Mercy: for All is Exalted in power, Wise. [Qur’an 9:71]

And he mentions a verse we have seen before, with a slightly different translation:

O mankind! Reverence  your Guardian-Lord, Who created you from a single person, created, of like nature its mate(zawj), and from them twain scattered (like seed) countless men and women-fear Allah, through Whom you demand your  mutual (rights), and (reverence) the wombs that bore you: for Allah ever watches over you![Qur’an 4:1]

The idea that men and women are spiritually equal in Islam should be clear from these Quranic quotes. The question then becomes how do misconceptions about gender equality arise among non-Muslims, and why do Muslims believe “unIslamic” things about women and treat women “unIslamically?” Dr. Khaled Abou El-Fadl, an influential contemporary Muslim thinker and jurist reproduces a few quotes on pages 258-260 of his book, “The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from Extremists”, that summarizes very well some of the misogynistic views of some who call themselves Muslims. The first quote, which deals with the worship of Allah, is important because it shows how women are continually denied their right to worship Allah as they are instructed in the Qur’an, thereby robbing them of their spiritual equality and equal moral responsibility before Allah. According to Mohammed Arkoun in his book entitled “Rethinking Islam: Common Questions, Uncommon Answers”, and one can agree with his assertion, the persistence even today of different socialization practices for daughter and son reflects the mother’s internalization of an objectively unfair status reproduced through daughters to ensure the survival of the system above and beyond the moral and religious calling of the person recognized by the Qur’an,”(Arkoun 61).

As stated above, many Westerners look narrowly at what has been done in the name of Islam and what continues to be practiced with respect to women and conclude that Islam necessarily mandates this treatment of women. For Arkoun and other intellectuals such as Lila Abou Lughod and Amina Wadud, it is issues of power and control that determine the degree to which any Muslim society adheres to the moral objectives and spiritual principles found in the Qur’an. The views of these scholars do not differ much from those found on the Muslim operated websites that were discussed in the beginning of this essay. However it is clear that to some of the writers mentioned, such as Maqsood and Badawi, Islam is still to be considered from a patriarchal perspective, as both believe that this is the perspective from which the Qur’an conveys its message to all mankind.


The Qur’an cannot be used to advocate and perpetuate gender inequality in Islam, as shown by various quotes from this essay. Although no ahadith were quoted it should be clear that since no authentic hadith can contradict the Qur’an, the authentic sunnah of the Prophet(as) found in some hadith support the idea of gender equality. However, many other ahadith give the opposite impression when read out of context, or translated inaccurately. In other cases ahadith that are graded da’if(weak) or fabricated(mawdu) are used to justify some misogynistic practices. Gender inequality among Muslims arose as a result of historical processes that saw their beginnings in the inherited practices of jahiliyya, and socially accepted norms that contradict the Islamic objectives and principles of the Qur’an.

Of course this analysis is too simplistic as we have left out the complex power dynamics of colonial and post-colonial Muslim societies that gave rise to displays of power symbolism in which women are always the first victims. And many scholars are aware that women have continually been mistreated despite Islam. In future parts we will analyze the ahadith that speak to gender equality or give the impression of a sanction for gender inequality as well as go deeper into Western non-Muslim and Muslim perspectives on just what constitutes “equality” in general and gender equality in particular. We will also take a historical look at treatment of women in Islam, postulating that there is an evolution and progressivism that was seemingly arrested by historical developments. It should be clear from the preceding discussion, though, that men who do seek to dominate women through unlimited exercise of power over their lives have to bypass Islam to do so, while using Islam through an Islamic veneer that gives the illusion of Islamic legitimacy. They also afford to do so by hiding behind “Islamicized” sociocultural practices that engender in the minds of clueless non-Muslim Westerners and Muslims alike the belief that inequality between the sexes is divinely mandated. Allahu A’lam.