Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Four Quls: Surah al Kafirun Is About Non-Compromised, Not Tolerance (1/2)

It is amazing how one can look at something and see the total opposite.

It is not amazing if “this something” is the picture designed for optical illusion.  Many of us would have seen a picture that, depending on our focus, depicts both an old lady and a young woman.  In this regard, one particular picture that I like is the one whereby, if we look at close range, it shows Albert Einstein, and if we look from a farther distance, it shows Marilyn Monroe.

But when one looks at a certain verse or chapter in the Quran, which clearly tries to convey something, and yet interprets the message in its complete opposite, I am at a loss at how this illusion is called.  Perhaps this is some kind of mental illusion, whereby one’s mind appears to be deluded by some preconceived ideas.

One particular case is Surah al Kafirun, the first of the Four Quls.

This Surah, as mentioned in the Introductory Remarks, is among the last chapters in the Quran.  As Quran has 114 chapters, this Surah, numbered 109, is placed as the last sixth.  Also as mentioned in the same entry above, al Kafirun is among the short Surah, like the other Four Quls.

Reading this short Surah, one would notice the repetitious proclamation of a certain idea.  The idea is that the believers and the disbelievers do not share similar “object” of worship.  The Muslims are asked to proclaim to the disbelievers that they do not worship what the disbelievers worship, vice versa; and the Muslims are not going to worship what the disbelievers worship, vice versa.  The Surah concludes with a verse: “For you is your religion, and for me, my religion.”

In six short sentences, the unequivocal idea is put forward that the believers and the disbelievers are not on the same path as far as faith or the “object” of worship is concerned, and that each is threading on a different way of life (which is what Deen, the exact word used in the last verse, means).

Amazingly, taking the last verse, “for you is your religion, and for me, my religion,” many people, both Muslims and their counterparts, say that this verse points to Islamic religious tolerance.  More amazingly, some, in particular Professor Hashim Kamali, go as far as saying that this Surah proves the validity of Religious Pluralism, the idea that all religions are true, all are seeking salvation,  and that all are leading to the Truth1

That Islam recognizes the right of others to exercise their own religions is well known.  Numerous Quranic verses and ahadith (Traditions) point to this fact. And that Islam also forbids forced conversion to Islam is also well known, for the Quran declares that “there shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion (2:256).”

But to surmise that Surah al Kafirun is about religious tolerance, and to use it as a basis to prove Islam’s recognition of Religious Pluralism is, at best, out of place, and, at worst, suggests a sinister motive.

The concept that all religions are true, and that all are leading to the Truth, in itself, is unIslamic.  Quran already states it unequivocally that: “indeed, the religion in the sight of Allah is Islam” (3:19); and that “whoever seeks other than Islam as a religion, it will not be accepted from Him” (3:85)”; and that “this day I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour to you, and have approved for you Islam as Religion” (5:3).

Most amazingly, Kamali also quoted those three verses to commence his piece on Religious Pluralism, but end up with a completely opposite conclusion.

I make no pretence of being an equal to Professor Kamali, for he is an erudite scholar, while I am but a learner.  Yet, even a soft spoken and mild scholar, known for his moderate views, such as Professor Uthman El-Muhammady, finds Kamali’s thesis distasteful.2  A scholar noted for his more stringent view such as al Maudoodi would have taken Kamali to task.  To use Surah al Kafirun even as the basis for religious tolerance is already distasteful to him3, what more to use it as a basis for Islam’s recognition of Religious Pluralism.4

It is imperative that Quranic verses have to be understood within their contexts.  Taking a particular verse in isolation and proceeding with “too liberal” an interpretation is dangerous.  Such is generally the route taken by the enemies of Islam, of which Professor Kamali is not. 

For instance, in order to claim that Islam promotes terrorism, the enemies of Islam are fond of quoting the following verses: “Slay the unbelievers wherever you find them (2:191); “Make war on the infidels living in your neighbourhood” (9:123); “When the sacred months have passed, kill the infidels wherever you catch them” (9:5); “Maim and crucify the infidels if they criticise Islam” (5:33); “Punish the unbelievers with garments of fire, hooked iron rods, boiling water...and melt their skin and bellies”  (22:19); “Do not hanker for peace with the infidels... behead them when you catch them” (47:4).

None of those represents Islamic teachings, but taking the Quranic verses out of contexts, the enemies of Islam would quote these, and many other verses, to prove their point that Islam is a religion that promotes terrorism, and that there is no such thing as Islam being a moderate Religion, for Quran itself teaches killing the infidels.

It is not the place here to talk about the nitty gritty of Religious Pluralism, nor about Islam vs Terrorism.  The point is simply to note the danger of taking something out of context.

Likewise with Surah al Kafirun.  It has to be understood within its context.  We shall cover that in the next instalment, insyaAllah.

Stay tuned.

1. Professor Kamali’s article appears in the New Straits Time (NST) on 8 February 2011 and may be accessed below, but as far as I can recall, this is only a portion of what he wrote in the NST:

2.  Professor El-Muhammady’s rebuttal may be accessed below.  This soft spoken and extremely polite scholar, a well known figure in Malaysia, is at pain to conceal his distaste to Kamali’s thesis (at least that is the impression I gather):
3.  In case one is interested, this is what al Maudoodi says concerning using Surah al Kafirun as the argument for religious tolerance:
If the Surah is read with this background in mind, one finds that it was not revealed to preach religious tolerance as some people of today seem to think, but it was revealed in order to exonerate the Muslims from the disbelievers religion, their rites of worship, and their gods, and to express their total disgust and unconcern with them and to tell them that Islam and kufr (unbelief) had nothing in common and there was no possibility of their being combined and mixed into one entity.”

4. Religious Pluralism is commonly defined as the idea that all religions are true, all are seeking salvation and all are leading to the Truth, but Kamali makes it rather complicated.  Perhaps to make the concept palatable to his arguments.  Those interested with what he says may go to:

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