Interesting Theological Questions To Ponder

Yahiya Emerick

 

    The Qur'an and example of the Blessed Prophet Muhammad, or Sunnah, are the two main sources from which the entire framework of Islamic theology are derived. But they are not the only sources which Muslims have consulted to formulate their philosophy and teachings through the centuries.

    These other "sources" include what was customary among the Arabs of early Arabia, the musings of other faith communities, what is customary among Muslims today, as well as the writings of theologians and philosophers throughout the centuries which may or may not be based on authentic Islamic texts.

    The potential danger in relying on these peripheral sources is that they may, in time, be accepted as authentic, even ranking as high as the Qur'an and the Sunnah!  This is the evil Bid'a, or innovation, that the Prophet spoke out against but which Muslims have embraced with abandon. What are some examples of this to help us understand the dangers?

    The ancient Arabs used to organize themselves into tribes which considered non-members inferior in status. Although this system was broken by the egalitarian nature of Islam in the first century of the Muslim era, Muslims in the last two centuries have brought it back with a vengeance in their allegiance to Indo-Pak, Arab, Turkish, African or whatever nationalism they can manufacture (or on the basis of European-imposed divisions on the Muslim world).

    You all have experienced it. If you are from a different ethnic group than the majority of the people at any particular Masjid or community function, you may feel a bit lonely or disassociated from the majority who don't seem to make much space for you in their tiny "world." This is due to a lack of Islamic brotherhood in the hearts of the people and a love for "Asabiyya" of nationalism. But even big Maulanas with beards and huge Sheikhs with thobes often promote these differences in their actions and public statements. A new reality in the world of Islam was imposed upon us with our own complicity!

    As for trends in the Muslim world today, you will find many extremist-oriented Muslim groups (no, I'm not talking about the "terrorists",) whose view of Islam is based solely on the word "anti-." They are anti- everything and anything. They are against 'America,' they are against 'the West,' they are against their national governments, they are against the local culture, they are against women's emancipation, they are against 'the Jews,' they are against writing for literature's sake, they are against TV, against madh-habs (that are not their own, for sure), against any and all 'differences of opinion,' against women driving or working, against women in the Masjid, against, against, against...

    It's hard to understand what they're for because they are often the same people, thobes and kufis notwithstanding, who cheat on their taxes, lie on their passports, marry Western women for their green cards, break any and every law at a whim, shout like donkeys in their emotional fervor and deny women their Allah-given rights. As one brother told me, "The anti-everything Muslims make the worst neighbors because they don't care about you and don't respect any laws."

    Sadly, this reckless, cavalier, "wild-West" attitude has infiltrated the thinking of many Muslims so much so that the President of Iran had to publicly declare (a few years ago) that people must live "by the rule of law." You can't just take the law in your own hands as a street mob or disobey a decision just because you don't like it.

    You wouldn't believe how many times I've seen these "vigilante" type Muslims, of all races, here in America, publicly causing fitnah over nothing, just because they want to be seen as standing up for some "principle." Well, if early Muslims felt that way, they wouldn't have obeyed Abu Bakr and fought against the rebels in the Wars of the Ridda. At that time, many Sahaba opposed Abu Bakr's handling of the crisis, but when the order came, they marched out and saved Islam for future generations.   And we're not even talking about things as dire as that!  We're talking about who should be chairman of the board, walls hiding women in the back, men being allowed to abuse their wives at will, is McDonald's meat halal, teens wearing baseball caps, etc...

    Islam is not a religion of revolution. It is not. Everyone says it is, even big Maulanas, but they're grossly mistaken. Islam is a religion of establishment.  No, not a religion of agreeing with established wrong-doers. It is a religion which seeks to establish itself in place and once it is established, it is a religion of law and order. There are no vigilantes allowed in Islam. We have a definite political structure, a hierarchy of command and an exhortation to obey Allah, the Prophet and those in authority over us who abide by the first two.  And it is not for us to oppose a leader simply because we don't agree with him. There has to be a clear violation of an authentic Shari'ah injunction. Even then we don't just go and assassinate the leader. We remove him through whatever legal means have been established for that purpose.  (The Kharajites were so feared in 'Ali's time because they answered to no one but themselves!)   Take that and think on it for a while.

    What about the thinking of Muslim scholars through the ages that has become accepted among Muslims, even though it may be faulty? Take these rapid fire examples as food for thought: If medieval scholars in their tafseers basically copied wholesale from the Jews and Christians and said that their stories are the missing links in the stories of the Prophets - without any independent verification, see how many Muslims fall down on their knees prostrate and accept them.  (In fact, it was common for Muslim theologians in the Middle Ages to consult the Talmud, Torah and Bible for info on the Prophets that they didn't find in the Qur'an, but Allah told us the Christians and Jews made up a lot of information in their books!  Thus, we would need independent historical verification to truly accept those stories.)

    If a contemporary scholar, whom I will not name, says Riba is Halal, see how many other Muslims follow him blindly. If Sufi mystics kiss hands, pray to other dead mystics and write about wine all the time, see how influential they become! And if the fifth Khalifah, named Muawiya, starts living in palaces, all Khalifas after him live in palaces- even down to our own times where "princes" and "Presidents for life" do so as well. (Saddam Hussein had some 70 palaces and mansions!) And what about the Muslims who issue Fatwas saying McDonald's meat is halal!

    Now, as for the cultural level, if the Muslims in one area have a tradition of wearing charms around their necks to ward off evil spirits, few dispute it or campaign against it.  (In the last 20 years, I have only seen one small booklet speaking out against 'tahfeez' charms.)  If others view Islam as only being concerned with laws and punishments, like many of the Salafees do, then no one argues that their is a merciful and spiritual side. "Viva the Taliban!" they cry, as men, women and children suffered under their cruel reign.

    If some believe that Islam requires female circumcision or marrying more than one wife, then who is there to disagree? If one big conservative scholar, whom I will not name, says that the Blessed Prophet was wrong for letting prisoners live after the Battle of Badr, saying he should have executed them all, we all jump up and agree with him. Allah forbid our own ignorance!

    These, and many other things, are the built up distortions and mistakes that have encircled themselves around the neck of real Islam. If you forget about the Qur'an and Sunnah and rely on people's opinions, blind following and superstition, then what you will get is the modern mess we call the "Islamic" world.

    When I came to Islam almost ten years ago, I read only the Qur'an- from cover to cover. In it I found no backward superstition, no unjustifiable harshness, no idiocy or contradiction. I discovered it to be the most reasonable book of persuasion that I ever read. I accepted Islam after reading only that one book.

    Then I came into contact with the Hadith, or sayings of the Blessed Prophet. I read many different Hadith books and again I found nothing amiss, though I did realize that the hadith literature was not as organized or studied as much as it should have been. The picture of the Prophet that I developed in my mind's eye was one of a compassionate seeker of truth who stood up against wrong when he had to and knew how the better man should behave.  I was so happy with myself as a new Muslim.

    Then I began to read another type of book: the books that talked about Islamic philosophy, beliefs and ideology. What was different about these from the Qur'an and hadith books?  Well, there was oftentimes much more input from the author and his or her opinions than from the two primary sources of Islam. Think about it: The Qur'an and Hadith are there and unchanged from antiquity, but you can pick up a book written by a Shi'a, a Sunni, a Za'idi, a modernist, a Salafi, a Tablighi or a Sufi and get an entirely different view of Islam- one that would make you think you were reading about different religions!

    It was after years of seeing these battling currents of opinion among Muslims that I decided to reject every type of Muslim sect and rely only on the Qur'an and Sunnah and at most what all the Madhahib generally agree on.  No exclusive Madh-hab worship, no Tariqas, no celebrity-Shaykhs, no 'points of view,' no 'opinions,' no "Masters," no cultural understandings and no ideological groups.  I decided to become the most dangerous kind of Muslim there is: a simple one who seeks to follow Islam and who tries to associate only with sincere people, shunning obvious hypocrites and worldly wealth seekers.

    I rather like to take as my model, after the Blessed Prophet, Abu Darda and Abu Dharr, both of whom led simple, pious lives away from the disunity and turmoil of society. Not that I'm a hermit or anything. I believe in the Islamic cause and give lectures and Khutbas, teach Muslim youth and write books. I just don't see any use anymore for sitting with groups of emotionally-oriented people who are easy victims of sloganeering, manipulation and ignorance.

    In the interest of trying to clear away some of the cultural and unscholarly garbage that has festered in our minds, I would like to present a few theological issues for you to consider that may need some rethinking to bring them more in accordance with Islamically acceptable teachings. I am not offering the solution to each problem, nor am I issuing Fatwas or anything of the sort.

    I am merely asking you to read each issue and think about the points that are raised. If they can be cleared up, please, write an e-mail to the editor and share your solutions to the Ummah, because I'm sure I'm not the only person who has thought about these and other things. So let's begin with the first issue to be liberated.

    It is commonly accepted among Muslims that a women should not hold the position of leader of a state. This evidence is based on a Hadith of the Blessed Prophet, who had been recently informed that a woman was made the ruler in the neighboring country of Persia. He reportedly said that "A people who make a woman their ruler will not prosper."

    I know many people take issue with this Hadith and I know that there are two groups of opinion. One group says this proves that Islam forbids women to be the head of anything. The Hadith, of course, doesn't say that, but the supporters of the first position say that the idea is implied.

    The people on the other side of the debate state that the Prophet was commenting on a specific case, that of a nation of disbelievers whose men were so rotten that they had to resort to a woman to rule them. Whatever the answer is to this question, however, and both sides will advance a load of arguments, the fact remains that it is a vague Hadith which mentions only top political leadership.

    Now the issue I want to bring to consideration is this: in light of this specific Hadith, many from among the first group say that a woman is even barred from being the head of an organization, an office holder in any capacity, a member or head of a Masjid Board or even a director of a charitable project! The other side takes an equally extreme position also: seeking women (who usually don't wear Hijab) as their leaders in all respects simply on the basis of their being female.

    Oftentimes the more conservative-run Masjids don't have adequate provision for women even to offer their Salah, arguing that women are basically banned from the Masjid. (I have read their literature that says so.  Even the premier "Salafi" translation of the Qur'an, "The Noble Qur'an" by Hilali and Khan states this very thing. See footnote 2A to ayah 2:3.) This, even though the Blessed Prophet said, "Do not prevent the female servants of Allah from going to the Masjid."

    On the other hand, it is sad to note that there are now "modern" Masjids where everything is so secular that the prominent women in charge of things almost never wear Hijab. Where can a balance be found? How can the desire for women to participate be joined with a social conservatism that is not oppressive or male-oriented exclusively? I think this is another job for the next generation and for new Muslims because the "ethnic" Muslims seem to be hopeless on this issue. What do you think?

    Another issue for our consideration: this time a theological one. I'm a person who loves history. The greatest enigma for a history buff is pre-history. What were humans doing ten thousand years ago, fifty thousand years ago? Where was Adam and Hawwa and what events changed the course of history forever in those long lost days?

    This type of interest raises a bunch of questions for me. First, the religious Jews and fundamentalist Christians are taught to believe that the world is only 6,000 years old. For them, dinosaurs may have existed for a few hundred years near the beginning of creation, but that was it. The world is 6,000 years old and that's what they believe!

    Obviously, the world is millions, if not billions of years old. All the evidence is there for any half-wit to see. We Muslims are not constrained to any figure of years, as the Qur'an and Hadith are silent on this. The only ayat in the Qur'an that mentions anything about this is vague: "Didn't a long time pass before humans were ever even thought of?" (76:1)

    Now most Muslim scholars reject any argument in favor of evolution, while at the same time not offering any other solution. Well, most Muslim "scholars" only know rote "religious" knowledge anyway, with no practical knowledge of science or anything else. Alas for the days when Muslim scholars were also scientists and searched for knowledge!

    Thus, the majority of Muslims say nothing about this issue and silently follow along in secular science classes all over the world while their teachers teach unrestrained evolution. Not many Muslims have seriously exerted themselves to tackling this issue. The few I know of are Maurice Bucaille, Muhammad Hamidullah and Wahiduddin Khan and that's about it. Any other writers I've seen dealing with this issue merely were attacking evolutionary theories using well-worn (and probably copied) Christian arguments.

    Where does Islam stand on this issue? Where does it really stand putting aside all the ignorant "religious" scholars and sell-out "Muslim" secular scientists? That's what I'd like to know and I'm sure you would, too. The two above-mentioned authors have formulated the most reasonable responses that I've seen yet.

    Another related question that pops up is this: Where was Adam after he was made? Traditionally, Muslims have assumed that Adam was made in Heaven and when he sinned, Allah put him on Earth. But what is the basis on this belief? It would seem strange for Allah to tell the angels He was going to place in the world (Al 'Ard) a Khalifa if He, in fact, created him in Heaven. 

    The Angels even objected at first saying that humans would kill and create disorder. Clearly those things are not possible in Paradise. If either the Angels or Allah thought Adam was going to be just another creature in the realm of Heaven then there would have been no further issue.

    Even further, Adam had a physical body while the Angels and Jinns had immaterial forms. (18:50) We all have to die before our essence can go into the next realm. So why this traditional view which seems a little odd?

    The reason goes back to two simple words: Jannah and Ahbitu, both found in 2:35 and 2:36 respectively. The word Jannah means "garden." Allah put Adam and his wife, Hawwa in a garden. The word for Heaven in Arabic is not Jannah, although it is sometimes synonymous. The word most accurately used for the next life is "Akhirah" or "Next (world)" The only time the word Jannah is used when talking about the next life is to emphasize that it will be like a beautiful garden, even better than what we have on earth. It must be pointed out that in Surah 18, Allah uses the word Jannah to refer to both a garden on Earth as well as one in Heaven. (See the story of the Owners of the Garden. (18:31-32) Jannah is a generic term for place of beautiful plant life.

    The Blessed Prophet said in a Hadith that Adam was in Jannah, or a garden. The location of the garden is never, to the best of my knowledge, said to be in the Akhirah, or Next World. There is no ayah or Hadith, that I know of, that specifically says that Adam lived in Heaven (the Akhirah) with Allah. Anyway, how could the Shaytan be in Heaven to tempt Adam and Hawwa? He was not allowed there, based on the command of Allah, after he had refused to bow along with the angels. So how could he go into Heaven to tempt them later on. Another ayah in the Qur'an even states that flaming meteors are used to drive the Shayateen away from Heaven.

    Now it seems reasonable to assume that Adam was created in the 'Ard, or Earth, as ayah 2:30 states. To strengthen this point, Allah says in the next ayah that He taught Adam the "names" of everything. All Muslims are in agreement that this means Adam learned about all the plants and animals. Again, that can't be in the Akhirah as Allah created those things on earth, as so many other ayat prove.   To further drive the point home, when Adam was commanded to tell the angels the names of all the plants and animals to show that he was superior, what plants and animals was he naming?  Those things were on earth.  Are there Zebras and Porcupines in the Akhirah?

    What about the next word, Ahbitu? That word means to get down or go down. Early Muslim scholars based their opinion, and the entire crux of their argument about Adam being made in a garden in Heaven (the Akhirah Heaven,) on this one word. They say that after Shaytan tricked Adam and Hawwa, that Allah kicked them out of Heaven and made them "go down" to Earth. I wonder if a spaceship was used or instantaneous molecular transport from the Akhirah to the surface of the earth!

    Now before going on, I must clarify that I am not insulting the understanding of the "scholars" and great minds of the past. Don't you remember the Prophet (p) remarking that he hoped people who heard this message in later times would understand it better than those who heard it first? And don't we always say the Qur'an is a book for all time? Don't we say every generation will find something new in Islamic understanding?

    We have to remember that Muslims in previous eras really believed that Heaven was up there in space somewhere. That it was up there in the midnight sky. Today we know that space is a vast empty domain filled with rocks, planets and stars. You can't get to Heaven in a space ship, but, following the understanding of earlier Muslims, it would be theoretically possible. Remember, they couldn't have known any better. So while they would be saying the Ghayb, or unseen world of Angels and Heaven, existed in a spiritual way, they would also think that Heaven was a real place with a geographical location up in the sky somewhere. Now we understand Heaven is completely in another plane of existence all together.

    Now, back to this word: Ahbitu. Anthropologists have discovered the earliest human bones in east Africa. Kenya, Ethiopia and other highland areas are virtual treasure-troves of ancient human bones. Now isn't it just possible that Adam and Hawwa's GARDEN was in the east African HIGHLANDS, which were steamy, tropical jungles tens of thousands of years ago? When Allah was telling them to "get down" from there, isn't it entirely possible they had to GO DOWN from their mountain gardens into the harsh plains and valleys below, which led out into the wide world?

    Anthropologists have even charted the course of human migration out of east Africa and constantly remark how amazing it is that people seemed to explode out of the east of the continent and rush out to fill every corner of the world in less than 50,000 years. Now I'm not saying all these things are true or false. What I am saying is that it may be time to re-examine what our scholars have interpreted in the light of our increasing knowledge. Doesn't Islam teach us to learn more all the time? I just want some food for thought to be served on our dormant tables again.

    Time to slay one more sacred cow. The family tree of Prophet Muhammad, may he be blessed, going back to Prophet Adam. Perhaps you've seen a poster of one or saw a listing of the alleged ancestors of the Prophet going back to Adam. What I want to know is this: how accurate is it? Are Muslims required to believe in it? Is there any ayah in the Qur'an that lists the Prophet's ancestors, one by one? Is there any Hadith where the Prophet, himself, recited every name in his family tree back to Adam? I have never seen anything of the sort.

    The question I want to pose is this: most of the names on those "family trees" are taken from Jewish writings, at least from Prophet Ibrahim on back to Adam. It is based on the assumption that the world is 6,000 years old only. Most of the names going from Kedar on down to Hashim, a prominent ancestor of the Qur'aish, are taken from Arab traditions, which were, by the way, the oral tradition of Bedouins for quite a while.

    The Prophet Muhammad never approved of such a list and there is no record that I have ever seen of him hearing the names of his ancestors back to Adam being recited and him approving of that list. So by accepting it, simply "because our ancestors" believed it, aren't we letting ourselves be held hostage by a world view that is based on faulty, unIslamic assumptions.

    To be sure, Islam is not against having a family tree; the Qur'an and Hadith extol the virtue of lineage. And we do know, based on ahadith, that the Prophet is descended from Ibrahim, but isn't Islam against ignorance based on mere traditions that have no basis in authenticity? Of course it is. Am I going to trust the names collected by Jewish historians three thousand years ago, considering that those names are recorded in a book, the Bible, that Islam teaches is the work of corrupt men? Am I going to accept blindly an unapproved and untested oral tradition that someone happened to say was the family tree of the Prophet? Even the Prophet, peace be upon him, never verbally approved of such a list going back to Adam or authenticated one, to the best of my knowledge.

    What am I saying? There are some incredibly naive Muslims who believe in customs and traditions simply because those things come down to us from "old times." If Allah chastises the Jews and pagan Arabs for following ignorantly the ways of their forefathers, are we so arrogant to believe that we would never do the same? We must re-examine ourselves and return to the authentic Qur'an and Sunnah. We must leave aside the honest, but inadequate reasoning's of those who lived before as new discoveries and knowledge came to light about specific issues.

    If I haven't ruffled enough feathers, let me bring up one more thing that will insure my name will be off the invited speakers lists of conventions for years more to come. How many of you have heard of the many Christian academics who specialize in the study of Islam and Muslims.  (I have met a few and have found them to be very nice people, by the way.)

    Many of them have written numerous books on their area of expertise and Muslims often praise them for their "balance" and "fairness" in their treatment of Islam. It has gotten to the point where they have become celebrities in the Muslim world, both here in the West and elsewhere.

    They are now commonly invited to speak at most Muslim conventions and many local events so much so that all you see sometimes are there names, in big, bold letters.  While I have no issue with that, one Muslim organization, which claims to be the umbrella organization of all Muslims in North America, has gone so far as to place one of them on its Board of Advisors. Other smaller Muslim organizations have followed suit.

    Not belittling the fairness or objectivity of the many Christian scholars who have made Islam their specialty, I just have one small problem in my mind. These non-Muslim scholars and others like them are so well-versed in Islamic teachings and beliefs that they would put most Muslims to shame. They know many aspects of Islam inside and out. So why haven't they accepted it? They know all the beliefs, practices and strengths of Islam as well as the ideological superiority of Islam over Christianity, but still they don't surrender their wills to Allah?

    Forget about the argument of letting everyone accept it in their own good time, these people are experts in Islam (at least its history and culture) and according to the Hadith of the Blessed Prophet, "Any Jew or Christian who learns about Islam and doesn't accept it will go to Hell-fire."  Are we placing people on pedestals whom Allah has promised Hell-fire to!   What is the world coming to?

 

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