Stemming the incoherence of misguided Muslim pundits

Indeed, it is most peculiar while Muslim pundits especially in IRF and SIS prefer to chastise people for not looking at the context of the verse but in this case, it is they who remain blind to the context. If we allow the promissory note for such literal interpretation of the verse devoid of scholarly consensus and right guidance, then there would be nothing left to prevent the likes of fanatics, demagogues and even militant extremists from appropriating Islām in order to justify atrocities and perpetuate even further injustices. 

Muhammad Husni Mohd Amin, Wan Mohd Aimran Wan Mohd Kamil, Muhammad Syukri Rosli and Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal 

We are gravely concerned with the recent development in the aftermath of forum “Islamic State: Which version? Whose responsibility?” which was held at Full Gospel Tabernacle.

It is truly shameful that the affairs of Muslims were being discussed without the guidance of scholars of Islām possessing true and correct knowledge of the religion. What is even more disconcerting is that the so-called representatives who were invited to speak on behalf of Islām at the forum appeared to be allow their political expediency to colour the content and tone of their presentation. How can one even be sure that they are speaking earnestly and truthfully on behalf of Islām?

To begin, let us return to the original controversial statement made by a certain politician at the forum pertaining to religious freedom and Islam as recorded in the transcript produced after the event:

Nurul Izzah: Yes, umm, but the idea itself, I think, goes back. And when you ask me, there is no compulsion in religion, even Dr (Ahmad) Farouk (Musa) quoted that verse in the Quran.

How can you ask me or anyone, how can anyone really say, ‘Sorry, this only apply to non-Malays.’ It has to apply equally… apply equally.

The audience applauds.

Nurul Izzah: In the Quran, there is no specific terms for the Malays. This is how it should be done. So I am tied, of course, to the prevailing views but I would say that.

Transcript produced by Malaysiakini

Before we delve into the merits of her statement, let us address the oft-repeated defence made on her behalf that she was unfairly and grossly misquoted by a biased press as part of a widespread ‘smear campaign’ against her. Our reply to this facile objection is that even if she was misquoted, one can view and read her actual recorded statements on YouTube without the mediation of a so-called biased press and thus come to one’s own free judgment regarding what she has said and how she said what she said.

Hence, to absolve oneself from passing correct judgment on the merits of what she has said on the excuse that she was misquoted by a biased press does not and cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged, especially if such a position is stubbornly held by those who make Islam their political raison d’etre. If such groups persist in holding on to such a position, then it represents a cover up of one’s political bias and one-sidedness.

Furthermore, a non-Muslim making ignorant statements about Islām may be excused on the basis of not himself being a Muslim and of being obstinate. Yet, a greater cause for concern is when a ignorant Muslim makes ambivalent declarations about the nature of Islām as a religion. With this in mind, we should ask the important question, which is worse: somebody making untrue statements about other people’s religions, or somebody making indefensible and unsound statements about his or her own religion?

In her effort to salvage the situation, Nurul Izzah brought up the following argument that she posted on her blog,

“Namun ditambah, saya berpegang pada pendirian umum sedia ada, iaitu setelah memeluk Islam, seorang Muslim tertakluk dengan Syariat Islam; sebagaimana seorang warganegara tertakluk dengan Perlembagaan Persekutuan.”

It is incorrect for Nurul Izzah to clarify her stand by equating, if not denigrating, a Muslim’s being subject to the laws of Shari‘ah with a citizen’s being subject to the Federal Constitution. In fact, this betrays a categorical confusion on her part because from the Muslim understanding, Islām is the true revealed religion, and the affirmation of this fact has consequences both in this world and in the hereafter. In contrast, a legal document, which is man-made, is subject to societal conventions and has consequences only so long as the convention is observed and maintained. A citizen can willingly give up his or her citizenship and other rights accorded in the laws of a country. However, the case is different for the Muslim who is subjected and obligated to all aspects of the religion of Islām. Therefore, the implications of being a Muslim and the implications of citizenship are not the same.

The kind of logical fallacy in which one equates between the two unequals indicates an error in the understanding of the proper definition of religion, specifically the nature of the religion of Islām.

On the nature of religion as being more than just belief in the form of affirmation in the heart and utterance on the tongue, but followed by submission in the way prescribed and approved by God.

The religion of Islām requires both belief (imān) and submission (islām) from its believers. Both are not identical, but they are mutually inseparable and indispensable, which means that one cannot do without the other (Qur’ān, 49:14). Thus, belief here is not in the sense we mean is to have “faith” as understood in English, but in the sense that it involves becoming true to the trust by which God has confided in on so it becomes verification (shahādah) by deeds in accordance to what is known to be the truth.

Imān consists of three components; assent by the heart, verbal declaration and action in accordance with the principles of Islām (taṣdīq bi’l-qalb wa iqrar bi’l-lisān wa’l-‘amal bi‘l-arkān). Therefore, it is misleading to say that all that is demanded from a Muslim is simply for him to claim that he has strong belief, as though strong belief alone is sufficient to secure his commitment to the religion.

Indeed, there has been a lot of misunderstanding over this particular point about the importance of belief, especially with regards to religion in general and Islām in particular. No doubt belief is important insofar as it serves as the starting point of any purposive action. But it does not follow that belief alone is enough. It is presumptuous to believe that one can simply will to be good, therefore one is good, and consequently, one ought to be recognised by others as being good.

To take a simple example, if a person were to make a claim that he or she loves the mother, if his or her actions are not in conformity with that claim, then the claim is disproved. Furthermore, it is not enough for that person to simply set an intention that “I love my mother” if that is not followed up by correct and proper words or actions that verifies that belief.

Rather, belief — as important as it is — is not a substitute for words and actions that conform and make manifest that belief. To put it simply, it is through correct action that one’s belief is verified, actualised and acknowledged.

Islam and other religions compared in terms of the Aqīdah and Sharīʿah.

A clear and correct definition of religion is central to the resolution of this debate. Following upon what has been said about the concept of religion as understood and practiced in Islam, we may now proceed to further elaborate on this matter.

The teachings of Islam do not accept other religions as being the same and equal to it and the Muslims do not have the authority to acknowledge other belief systems as such. Lest Muslims be accused of being exclusivists, we reply that the non-Muslims should not worry about the fact that the only religion accepted in the sight of God is Islam (Qur’ān, 3:19) since to believe in the Holy Qur’ān is not a basic tenet in their belief systems. Nevertheless, if one recognizes and accepts the argument in the Holy Qur’ān to be rationally sound and true, then one should not reject its definition and conception of religion.

In Islām, “al-dīn” is understood as the proper and correct term to portray the definition and conception of religion. Since it has been proven that the Qur’anic language, with its systematic root words, is scientific in nature, one can determine the meaning of this particular word by analyzing its semantic field. One of the manifestation of the root word of “al-dīn” is “madīnah”. For Muslim, “madīnah” has a profound epistemological role in the belief and practice of religion. It is the period when the belief of the religion of Islām (aqīdah) was actualized by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (upon him be peace!) who is the final Messenger of God for mankind. What was actualized during the time of Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) constitutes the reality of religion (sharīʿah).

What does compulsion and coercion mean?

The Holy Qur’an enjoins the Muslims to invite others to the path of Islām with wisdom and good instruction, and if there arises an argument, the Muslims should argue with them in the best way or manner (Qur’ān: 16:125).

“Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold, that never breaks. And Allah hears and knows all things.” [Qur’ān: 2:256]

Since the verse above was revealed to the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him), who himself is first and foremost a Muslim, it is only fitting that the way we look at the issue of compulsion in religion must be within the ambit of the worldview of Islām. In Islām, religion is an important matter because it is reflection of the Truth.

From the authoritative exegesis of Prophet Muhammad’s Companion – Ibn ʿAbbās, as collected by al-Fīrūzabādī (1329–1414) the phrase “there is no compulsion in religion” is understood to be referring upon people of the Book (Christians and Jews) and the Magians after the Arabs submitted themselves into Islām. The scholars of tafsīr clearly indicated that it is directed to non-Muslims and not Muslims as claimed by those who condone apostasy among Muslims. These views have found resonance in many authoritative tafāsīr and it has never been grossly misinterpreted in the way that is being peddled by certain groups – the likes of Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) and Sisters in Islam (SIS) – to suit their fanciful slogans of enlightenment and reason.

Referring to the verse 256 in chapter 2 of the Qurʾān, the Muslim scholar and the celebrated author of Tadabbur-e-Qurʾān (“Pondering over the Qurʾān”), Shāykh Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī (1904-1997), was fully aware of the tendency for confused Muslim throughout the ages of using the notion of “there is no compulsion in religion” in making the religion of Islām conforms to their fancy whims and desires, and said:

“Some people unfortunately take this verse away from this sense and try to use it for rejecting all legal constraints. They argue that since there is no compulsion in Islām, any attempts to invoke punishments for certain acts are invalid in Islām and are, moreover, mere fabrications on the part of ‘mullahs’ (note: Muslim scholar title that is widely used in India and Pakistan). If this line of argument is accepted as valid, it would mean that the Islamic Sharīʿah (i.e. Law) is without any prescribed punishments and penalties and that it allows people to behave and act as they please without imposing any restrains on them.”

What this clearly demonstrates is the ready awareness amongst the learned scholars of Islam regarding the susceptibility of this particular Qur’ānic verse to misrepresentation and misinterpretation in the hands of those who possess neither the prerequisite knowledge nor the proper training that befits a true scholar.

It may also be added that this particular verse has barred the Muslim from committing transgressions and atrocities from committing tyrannical religious persecution and forced conversion that stain the history of Europe, the likes of the Spanish Inquisition which in the course of 100 years resulted in the expulsion, forced conversion and killing of over 500,000 Muslims.

Indeed, it is most peculiar while Muslim pundits especially in IRF and SIS prefer to chastise people for not looking at the context of the verse but in this case, it is they who remain blind to the context. If we allow the promissory note for such literal interpretation of the verse devoid of scholarly consensus and right guidance, then there would be nothing left to prevent the likes of fanatics, demagogues and even militant extremists from appropriating Islām in order to justify atrocities and perpetuate even further injustices. Rather, such methodology of blind interpretation is characteristic of the Wahhabi ideology that has produced extremists in the past. All of us should heed well the warning by the Holy Prophet which can be found in the Six Books of authentic traditions (Sunan Sittah) of the danger of spiritual and intellectual blindness:

“A people will come out at the end of times, immature, foolish and corrupt. They will hold the discourse of the best of creation and recite the Qur’ān, but it will not go past their throats. They will pass through religion the way an arrow passes through its quarry.”

Those who argue along the lines of half-baked understanding of the Qur’ānic verse often do not even bother to read the second part of the verse that makes clear the distinction between Truth and error. There is no sense in holding on to that verse if this distinction is only mentioned in briefly or outrightly dismissed without equally serious consideration. The religion of Islām makes clear its claim to Truth, and this is why its content is cognitive to the human mind. If this is not granted, then the Qur’ān which is meant for guidance for mankind becomes entirely pointless, just as it is pointless for a someone, after having been forewarned of a burning house acknowledges the guidance given but proceeds headlong to enter it anyway – that is just sheer stupidity on that person’s part.

Hence, change of religion is neither similar to change of clothes nor the change in appetite for certain foods. A Muslim begins his religious life with the firm certainty with regards to the truth of his religion as revealed in the Qur’ān. Consequently, it follows that the act of choosing falsehood after having been acquainted with truth and living with the truth is certainly something unreasonable and cannot be made reasonable.

Anyone who makes conscious decision to leave the religion WILL leave the religion; yet the onus falls on the people who are in collusion in helping him or her leave the religion, without giving us the chance to look at the reasons for leaving in the first place, which is mainly rooted in misunderstandings and ignorance of the religion altogether. Due to the fact that imān also depends on the Muslim’s actions in accordance to the principles and the truth of Islām, therefore it is not correct to assert that one’s own aqīdah remains intact after having consented to or worse, having participated in securing the apostasy of another Muslim.

Freedom as understood in Islam – is there such thing as the freedom to do wrong?

Islām conceives freedom as “ikhtiyar”, which stems from the word “khayr”, meaning “good”, implying true freedom is choosing the good instead of the bad, the better over the worse or the best between two alternatives. A person who is presented with a choice between what is good and what is bad and proceeds to choose the bad is not exercising real freedom. In truth, the person is trapped within his own ignorance, thus unable to make the right choice in choosing for the better, and in doing so, has committed a grave injustice to his or her own self and others.

God’s prohibition to Adam (upon be him be peace) not to approach the forbidden tree only makes sense if he possesses the capability to do so in the first place, which he clearly demonstrated. Thus, it is wrong to say that Adam was given the choice to sin. Similarly, God’s prohibitions to man only makes sense if man has the capability to do so in the first place, again, which he clearly demonstrated in the course of history. It would make no sense to issue a prohibition against flying to say, a cat, knowing full well that a cat has not the capability to fly. Therefore the argument saying that God gives man the freedom to commit sin or to change religion is not only fallacious, but also absurd. Just to tie in the knot, within the same sūrah, we are told that Adam after having realized his mistake, repented to God and He accepted it (Qur’ān, 2:37).

On action and lawful enforcement – the necessity of action – double standards between political action and intellectual in-action – a perverse notion of power.

The according of special position to Islām in the Federal Constitution reflects the worldview of Islām that was present in the minds of people who drafted it. In accordance with the reality that Islām as not merely an official religion but the religion of the Federation — for the Muslim it is akin to a person who has witnessed (shahādah) and professed the truth of Islām — no one can claim his Islām, as an ideal, is perfect, rather it is submission (aslama) that must be continuously implemented from time to time in order to grow in the certainty of faith – admittedly as human beings we have our our falling short of performing our religious duties but there is always room for improvement.

There is no denying that it is of utmost importance for Muslims to reflect the highest of morals and virtues of Islām in their words and actions; this is emphasized numerous times in the the Qur’ān without the needing the cries of religious modernists as though it was only now realized by the Muslim community.

What is more important is our attitude upon finding out that the reality of Islām has been misinterpreted or distorted by people whose knowledge of religion does not come to the level that qualifies them to speak on Islām; is it reasonable to allow these misunderstanding and confusion run rampant without being admonished and refuted by those who are truly qualified?

Indeed, courage is not merely proven just by being violent or contentious. However, courage should not be reduced to being overly gentle and apologetic, moreover when ignorance has become rampant.

Courage in that situation requires firmness that is based on true knowledge.

One can contemplate on the lines by Yeat:


“Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”

Muhammad Husni Mohd Amin, Wan Mohd Aimran Wan Mohd Kamil, Muhammad Syukri Rosli and Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal are Fellows in Himpunan Keilmuan Muslim (HAKIM)