TIME: 13:00–14:00, 15th May 2017
VENUE: The Henry Jackson Society. 26th Floor, Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, London, SW1P 4QP
SPEAKERS: Mohammed Amin MBE, Azahar Aslam, Imam Sheikh Dr Usama Hasan
CHAIR: Dr Alan Mendoza, Chief Executive, The Henry Jackson Society
Dr Alan Mendoza: Welcome everybody to a very interesting discussion I think on this book, Islamic Foundations of a Free Society, it is available outside and which we will be discussing in depth and I am not going to ruin the surprise by talking too much about it but I can tell you we have got an excellent panel who have convened here to give us their thoughts I suppose on the relationship between liberty and Islam and how this relates into practice and theory.
To my left we have Mohammed Amin MBE who is the Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, the co-chair of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Manchester, a Fellow of the Muslim Institute and an Associate Member of the British Association for Islamic Studies. He has been writing for many years on the issue of Islam, the role of Islam in society and will be a fascinating speaker for us today.
To his left we have Azahar Aslam, a founding member of the Istanbul Network for Liberty and I a moment we will hear a bit more about the Istanbul Network for Liberty. He is also the Chief Executive of the EO Vision 21 Foundation a Pakistani based NGO and is Program Director of its Speed Literacy Program, which aims to tackle illiteracy in Pakistan. So I think very interesting to hear in terms of your own writings how that relates into Qur’anic studies and how that relates into our topic today, given you are an expert in this field.
Our old friend at the end, Imam Sheikh Dr Usama Hasan the head of Islamic Studies at Quilliam. A former radical Salafi activist, jihadist essentially, in Afghanistan, but he has of course for many years taken a very different route campaigning against extremism and is known to many of us I think for the sterling work he does at Quilliam in combatting some of the problems of jihadism.
But before we hear from our guest speakers I do want to introduce just for a second, Linda Whetstone who is actually the driving force for all of this if I may embarrass her for a moment and is a great supporter and founder of liberal and freethinking networks which you have done for so many years and you are going to tell us a little bit about the Istanbul Network.
Linda Whetstone: Yes, I just wanted to say a word about the Istanbul Network because if that didn’t exist we wouldn’t all be here and the book Islamic Foundations of a Free Society wouldn’t be here either. The Institute of Economic Affairs asked me to edit the book along those lines, Philip said ‘You know so many Libertarian Muslims’ so after a long time I got together using the conference speakers from the Istanbul Network because we have tried to have an international conference every year. The Istanbul Networks mission is to explore the principles and values of a free society within the Muslim world, it has got a very good website and we have events, we are going to have a lot more events now, one in the autumn. If anyone is interested in more of it you can pick up on of these before you go so you will know a bit more about that and as I said the book and this is related.
Dr Alan Mendoza: Marvellous, great thank you very much Linda. Mohammed I think you are going to kick us off.
Mohammed Amin: The Conservative Muslim Forum doesn’t do theology and I am speaking in an entirely personal capacity. I have been asked to explain two major divides in two minutes. Firstly the difference between Sunni and Shia and secondly the divide between Islamists, traditionalists and rationalists.
So the Sunni/Shia divide. The Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, died without appointing a successor. One group of Muslims believe that the replacement leader should be the Prophets closest male relative and that meant Ali who was the Prophets cousin and also happened to be the Prophets son-in-law. This group, the minority, became known as the Shia which simply means the party of Ali. The other group, the majority, believe that the replacement leader should be the best qualified male Muslim irrespective of ancestry and they installed the Prophets closest friend, Abu-Bakr. This group are called Sunnis from the word Sunna. The Sunna is the tradition of the Prophets council, what he did and what he said. Shia Muslims also believe in the Sunna but that doesn’t make the Sunnis. Sunnis are defined by their view on that original decision about who should be the first Calif and indeed the second Calif and the third Calif. The fourth Calif actually was Ali.
The second divide – how do you decide what God wants you to do? How much can you apply rationale interpretation into the texts of the Quran especially in the light of changing circumstances? At one extreme, around 800 AD, one group called the Mutazulites in Arabic believed that you could deduce almost everything about Islam by pure reason, without even reference to the texts of the Quran. Let’s call them sort of extreme rationalists. Other Muslims believed that Islam had to be totally grounded in the traditions of the Quran and there is an extreme example of one Scholar who never ate a watermelon because there were no accounts of the Prophet eating a watermelon. Traditionalists run out, mainly thanks to group force because they had the Calif on their side and since then overwhelming Islamic Scholars have been traditionalists, tending to follow past rulings.
However rationalism never disappeared and throughout Muslim history and sort of Muslim scholarship there is this balance between how much emphases do you give on tradition and how much emphasis do you give on applying independent thinking to the texts of the Quran.
Islamists. Islamism is a 20th century invention by two people. Hassan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928 and in British India Abul A’la Maududi founded the Jamaat-e-Islam in 1941. Both believed that you could find a complete readymade set of political ideas within Islam and that is what Islamism is.
My view is very simple. In Maududi’s time fascism was the trendy intellectual, political idea. What Maudidi did was create his own authoritarian replica of the Islamic language which is why I have zero sympathy for Maudidi or Jamaat-e-Islam or the Muslim Brotherhood.
That is my two minutes on those, can I go on to my seven minutes? All the speakers have been given 7 minutes to speak and I was going to do an extra two on the definitions.
So the question is, is Islam compatible with a free society? Well let me start with a confession. I am a chartered accountant and if you ask the chartered accountant almost any question, their reply is likely to be on the one hand it could be this and on the other hand it could be that. That is why some businessmen look for one-armed accountants. My answer to the question, is Islam compatible with a free society is well it depends. It depends on how you understand Islam. Let me give you an example of another religion – within our lifetimes some Christians, read the bible and decided that Black South Africans were an inferior form of humanity compared with white South Africans. At the same time, other Christians read that same bible and joined the South African civil rights movement campaigning for racial equality. One bible, two diametrically opposite interpretations. The same is true of Islam. The Taliban and the ISIS read the same religious texts that I read – their understanding of Islam is incompatible with any concept of freedom. They demand that people become robots obeying the rules of Islam as the Taliban or ISIS chose to interpret them.
Conversely last year, I gave the annual religious freedom lecture of the J Rueben Clark Society of the UK and Ireland chapter. You can find the lecture on my website mohammedamin.com quite easily if you look for it. In my lecture I showed how the Quran is completely compatible with article 18, the religious freedom article, of the UN universal declaration of Human Rights. Just because the Bible or Islamic Sources can be read in multiple ways, does not mean the readings are equally valid.
Outside the Literacy reform Church, very few Christians read the Bible as justifying white people supressing black people. Similarly, very few Muslims agree with the way that the Taliban or ISIS read the Islamic sources. Sadly many of the people who disagree with the Taliban or ISIS are reluctant to speak up, perhaps because the fear of being accused of not being Muslim enough.
In my remaining time I want to look at the Islamic resources in just a tiny bit more detail but I am going to leave the heavy stuff with my colleagues. The starting point with Islam is the Quran, as a Muslim, I believe that God relieved the Quran to the Prophet Mohammed peacefully upon him via the Ark Angel Gabriel and the Quran is the literal word of God, that is what I believe.
The second source of authority in Islam is called Hadith which are accounts of the actions and sayings of the Prophet Mohammed. They are not recorded contemporarily but spread by word of mouth. Several 100 years later, some scholars went around collecting these oral accounts, they tested the chains of transmission – I heard this from A, who heard it from B, who heard it from C who heard the Prophet say it. These collectors rejected most of the Hadith which they found but found some were believed to be reliable.
Now with the Quran the only question is your understanding and interpretation because all Muslims accept that the text of the Quran what we have is the Quran given by God to the Prophet Mohammed. But when somebody quoted the Hadith, the very first question should always be to decide if you think that the Hadith is authentic. So let me give you one example. Across the seas the act of deciding that you no longer believe in Islam, in the Quran God is quite damning about those who chose voluntarily to leave Islam. God makes it quite clear that they are liable to be condemned to hell on the day of judgement however the Quran lays down no earthly penalty for simple apothecia. There are earthly penalties for getting involved in armed intervention against the Prophet Mohammed but that is a different thing entirely. When you look at the Hadith there are some Hadith to the effect that anyone who changes his religion away from Islam should be killed. Although these Hadith are included in the major Hadith collections, when assessed by the criteria for deciding whether Hadith is strong or weak, these Hadith are not particularly strong. My colleague Usama has written about this subject in real depth.
These Hadith are regarded as not particularly strong just from looking at the chains of transmission. But when you go on to assess what these Hadith are saying, you compare that with the message of the Quran and I think it becomes even clearer. My view is that any Hadith which contradicts the Quran has to be rejected because I do not believe that the Prophet Mohammed would ever have gone against the expressed word of God in the Quran. God applies no earthly penalty for apothecia whilst castigating people for flip/flopping I don’t believe that the Prophet spontaneously decided himself decided to create an earthly penalty for apothecia.
I don’t have time to go through lots of individual religious texts, my colleagues may go through them a bit more but I have got a very simple big picture message. In the Quran, God speaks directly to every person individually. He tells us what is the right way to live, God promises rewards for obeying him and threatens the punishers for disobeying him and God then leaves it to us to get on with it. That is fundamentally a message of Freedom. That is why for centuries Muslim majority countries were much more tolerant of religious diversity than Christian Europe with its persecution of heresy any form of Christian heresy was persecuted in Europe, let alone the treatment of Jews in Europe.
My conclusion is the better reading of Islamic sources is that Islam is compatible with a free society. If God gives us the freedom to choose, otherwise he could of made us into robots automatically giving us what God wanted us to do, thank you.
Dr Alan Mendoza: Thank you, very interesting. Usama is next.
Dr Usama Hasan: Firstly, a big thanks to Alan and The Henry Jackson Society and to Linda of course, we have an all-male panel here but Linda is the driving force behind this some there is some gender diversity there. And thank you to Mohammed for this thought provoking comments there. Now I am going to summarise some of the things I have written about, some of my work, but before I plug Quilliams work actually, please take a card there is something on the centre for Islam and religious freedom in the US based in Washington, so it is a small organisation which has produced a lot of resources in a dozen different languages on this entire topic of Islam and religious freedom, so do pick up one of these if you are interested and have a look at their website.
One of the resources which they have published in a dozen languages both in text and audio form is my own little essay called Islam and the freedom of belief. I will summarise that in my talk here, this is also available from the Quilliam website of course. A further one is a rather substantial essay I wrote which is a book really but this was published by Quilliam two years ago and it is called From Dhimmitude to Democracy: Islamic Law, Non-Muslims & Equal Citizenship, a bit of illation there especially the Dhimmi being the traditional protection granted to non-Muslims under Muslim law, under Sharia, in return for the payment of a poll tax, the exemption and protection from military service. There are a lot of issues related to that historically which I go into in great detail and this is again available from the Quilliam website in both a full and brief version.
Now I will try and summarise the main ideas in the few minutes I have left. So firstly the no compulsion with religion essay and I will let you if you are interested read it in full, but this essay was based around 8 main points and they are as follows:
- Blasphemy is difficult to define in a global context – one person’s blasphemy may be another person’s freedom of belief. This is talking about not just liberty in general but religious freedom in particular.
- Blasphemy laws are seriously open to abuse and are used by oppressing governments to enforce discrimination against religious minorities. This is a fact.
- From an Islamic perspective inaudible and compulsion in Islamic letters there is a fundamental inaudible principle, truth based on free will and free order. That is the theological point and provides the title of this essay no compulsion in religion that is actually a famous Qur’anic verse which is regarded as one of the fundamental verses of the Quran. It is repeated two or three times but that word there is no compulsion in religion is absolutely fundamental to say obviously faith has to be based on free will and free choice this is a matter that of the heart and coercion cannot come into it. Faith in God has to be free there is no compulsion in any way there has to be liberty underpinning that choice. God gave us free will to give us that moral choice between good and evil, between faith and non-faith etc. it cannot be enforced at the point of a gun.
- Religious faith in practice under coercion is clearly not genuine and therefore, counter-productive which follows on from the previous point. I am thinking here for example when fundamentalist Muslim parties took power in the North West province of Pakistan after 9/11 through a protest vote against American action in Afghanistan, one of the things they did was pass a law obliging all public servants to attend daily prayers during office hours. This is a clear case of non-genuine religious dis-practice because if you have been forced to go into the Mosque it is not exactly free is it.
- There is a no very explicit sanction in the Quran for the criminalisation and punishment of blasphemy. Infact the few scriptural texts I am quoting in this regard all refers to inaudible… and the harsh medieval sanctions were developed after the Prophet lived. The current blasphemy laws in Pakistan they were introduced by the British of course during the British Empire to try and stop communal violence between Muslims and Hindus.
- The Islamic scriptures promotes faith in respect for sacred symbols and any penalty for any violation of these are spiritual and other worldly and not the business of worldly legislation and punishment. I think it is important to remember there that Muslims have a strong sense of the sacred, in fact all religious believers do. In the modern world Prince Charles once said that we have to relearn a sense of the sacred from the Muslims because he saw increasingly in the modern Western world it was often the devout leaders of Islam that were maintaining a strong sense of respect for the sacred. That sense of the sacred applies to all civilisation, including Western civilisations which follows from the belief in God and the divine and the sacred. Of course this is relevant to what happens to the Prophet Mohammed when he is insulted or mocked etc. many people who are perhaps not Muslim and people in the West why some Muslims get so angry, it is because of very strong sense of the sacred. Now that does not justify violence or breaking the law in any shape or form and that is something that Muslims and others have to solve in terms of how those issues are addressed, the disrespect of the sacred. That is an issue which I discuss in more detail here.
- The Quran encourages to freely discuss and debate matters in faith and religion to enable people through moral agents to make informed choices about such matters. The key thing about the Quran and I am sure other scriptures is the focus is on dialogue and debate. One scholar said if you read the Quran carefully, God debates Satan numerous of times, you know the story of Adam and Eve and the fall, there is a fall of Satan as well. There is a huge dialogue between God and Satan – that is the basis for debate. So we talk about theological skills and argue about the nature of the Quran itself whether it was created itself or uncreated for example and that is related to is it human or divine or human and divine. Much like the arguments in early Christianity about the making of Christ, is Christ human or divine or both. We had exactly the same discussions about the Quran, the theological schools discussed if reason comes first or revelation, which takes precedence logic and reason or scripture and that is an unsolved matter to this day. The point is Muslims are unafraid and very boldly discuss all of these very basic questions.
- Debate and discussion should ideally be polite, respectful and civilised when it is not the Mohammed in character, meaning the Prophet himself, is to respond to insults, uncivilised behaviour and violence with patience, forgiveness and compassion. There are versus in teaching the Quran about forgiveness and compassion etc. are very similar the Christ in the first testament and of course the great prophet of the Old Testament.
Those are the eight points in this publication and there is more in the other one, thank you very much.
Dr Alan Mendoza: Azahar would you like to give us your thoughts..
Azahar Aslam: Thank you, thank you very much for organising this. I shall focus on the question of liberal democracy and Islam’s compatibility, my question is, is liberal democracy compatible with Islam? For that is how the issue is seen in Muslim majority countries. I am just going to present some facts and let you guys draw conclusions and we can talk about any conclusions later on.
History – first fact – the drawings of John Locke, who influences because all of us are influenced by people we live with. Two names which stand out are teacher Edward Pococke and Henry Stubbe. Pococke had gone to Aleppo to study Islam and to live with Muslim scholars where he spent a decade and half and came back and set up a first chair of Arabic in Oxford and set up a big library as well. According to Locke and he was one of the greatest influencers on Locke thinking on the treaties of toleration.
Henry Stubbe was a radical reformist and Locke’s friend and some people say he actually converted to Islam. He in 1964 in his famous book the account of rise of Mahometanism, unlike the Christian Princes and Church leaders, Mohammed was far from depriving Islam from its liberty, that he would set even a bird free if he saw him encaged. Therefore Stubbe argued that Mohammed and his values must be a Christian idea.
As you all know, Islam does not believe in original sin, it has this concept of a clean slate. A Spanish Muslim philosopher inaudible… was translated in 1671 into Latin and then into English as a self-taught philosopher. This is known to have directly influenced Locke to argue that a child was born with a clean slate, this essay was said to be Locke’s key study on Locke’s essay on human understanding.
Here is another historical fact. Sharia, Sharia law has some aims to it. Throughout the Muslim history leaders insisted that Islamic law has come to protect the universal, God given rights of life, religious freedom and liberty, to choose and protect one’s family and property and human intellect. The Quranic concepts of common origins of all humans absolute equality and human dignity, laid the foundation of this.
I have been studying this for a while and the more I study it and my conclusion is it is Islam which indirectly gave birth to liberal democratic ideas and ideas of free society, although the historical facts are not known at all.
Nation states – this is number two- historical Islam does not define a state or require a state that is my understanding of it. It does desire, idealizes and demands a community and in that it largely leaves it open to define a community and offers only very broad principals but not structures and codes. These are broadly that there is a commonwealth of humanity so Allah has made human beings as inaudible.. to fulfil us. That means all humans not believers all humans. Religious identity and responsibility, equality and accountability in front inaudible.. and that is the law and the governing body and free market. These are the fundamental principles Islam has identified but it hasn’t given any concept of the state. The first fifty years of Islam was based on these principles, the only extended priority the Quran has clearly set out is takwir which, as I understand is, consciousness of being authorable to a just and merciful God about one’s individual actions. Islam places before the individuals and societies the same high ideas of Muslim morality and it makes it obligatory for them to abide by the principles of morality at all costs and in all circumstances.
The scholars of Islam as Usama was referring earlier on were not really part of the state at all. There were not officials of state and they are like an independent republic of scholars, more akin to model our professors but with a much greater influence. In theory, at least all rules in Muslim history were accountable to the law. As the first Calif said if I do not obey the law of Quran and Prophet, then you don’t have to agree with me, you can remove me. British nobles of course had witnessed this first hand in the Crusades when they had seen this in inaudible.. rule under the law not above it.
As a matter of fact, in my opinion, the Islamic view of political structures in its very own nature compresses the co-existence of multiple religions, cultures, social and inaudible patterns. The best example one can give for that is the Prophet himself in the first constitution inaudible… which is very unique not only in Islamic but the human history. Classic Muslim jurists always saw a powerful Monarch and the state as an essential evil and the least worst alternative to anarchy and chaos. In the first three entries of Islam there are open discussions and debates. There was an open floor for ideas and many ideas considered heretic where lived to remain in peace, free to practice the way people wanted practice their lives with those ideas. So it was in this spirit that one of the Imams who actually founded a school, said to inaudible… Calif Masood when he offered him that his law should be what the Calif should adopt as the law of the empire and he said no, inaudible.. faithful or not because people have already learnt various views and know certain traditions and develop practices, so let them choose what they want to practice.
Imid Kadoon establishes three states and for the Muslims he says there is a political system for Muslims called inaudible, which is politics based on reasoning with religion playing an important and primary role but not the sole role. Other Muslim scholars have presented similar ideas, according to Iqbal the state from the Islamic point of view is an inaudible from the ideas of equality, solidarity and freedom into a definite human organisation. Inaudible Akhtar says that Islamic moral force will push for equitable distribution of political power and economic assets and will always oppose monopoly in markets and the state. So to sum up in my view, Islam sees power and its instruments through the lens of human morality and are subservient to it.
Coming to liberal democracy. It is in trouble according to a whole institution at Stafford University while the world has learnt from America that economic and political freedoms that come from capitalism and democracy are the most powerful and productive way to organise society, America is discovering that capitalism and democracy alone are not enough to sustain a healthy, powerful society. We are learning the hard way that self-learning nation must consist of self-learning individuals and breakdown in the moral fabric of society has consequences. Bill Emmott the ex-editor of the economist writes about this in his latest book “The Fate of the West” – “the principles that drove it to its greatest achievements have been corrupted. Special interest groups have accrued too much power and the values of openness and equality has fallen into disrepair.”
So what about the Muslim lands itself? What exactly has gone on there? Of course as we mentioned earlier on, I have been in education and literacy there for almost the past twenty years and I have had close encounters in teaching inaudible have themselves and my whole thoughts reading off the whole thing is the lack of education and to be honest it is the lack of reading the Quran as well and I can tell you in one of the incidents, whenever we start a class one of things we do is we want to know about the kids and I asked them all these questions and a lot of these people were learning Quran by heart and we were completely shocked to learn that while the knew the Jihad and who was heretic and who was non-Muslim, they simply did not know about Prophet, his life, his conduct and even the Quran they were learning it by road but there was no understanding. But as far as I am concerned this is one of the major issues that Muslims have, we recite Quran, we teach Quran but we never actually read the translations, we need to understand it and we don’t really learn about it.
The problem is compounded by the leaders where real epitomises have ruled the Muslim countries, there is lack of regime, corruption is rampant, chronic capitalism dominates the economy and democracy is seen as a mere electional thing. Unfortunately there has been a lack of help by the short sided Western governments, these people have just continued to self-serve.
So to wrap it up my argument is that Muslim Imams need a bit of breathing space and the West must be willing to let them come up with a compatible, mutually enforcing of different trajectories of Islamic order. Islamisation of modern secularism is not only a possibility, it is already happening in all Muslim countries and the internet has obviously contributed massively to this phenomenon.
Islam envisages, provides and facilitates such a free society, there should be no doubt both the scriptures and sources, the Quran testifies to this that early Islamic history and even the later history is built on openness, tolerance, inclusion and again testifies to Islamic freedoms. But should it always happen like it has happened in the West – I don’t think so. I think they have to be allowed to develop their own versions of democratic models. We all share one planet and inaudible… humanity so as far as I am concerned I think we should allow each other to live in peace and have some develop and fundamental values and the most important value in my opinion is the morality of inaudible… which we all share and inherent in each accountable individual. Thank you very much.
Dr Alan Mendoza: My goodness there is a lot to take in from the three of you. Now we have got some time for questions if you could just give your name and affiliation.
Question 1: In the spirit of tolerance I would like to ask the following question. It took Christianity 2000 years to come to the understanding that the Jews are our elder brothers, how long do you think it will take Islam to come to this understanding?
Question 2: I would be interested to know, interpretation has been mentioned and different ways at looking at the Quranic scripture, I would be interested to know your interpretations of versus 43-44.
Dr Alan Mendoza: Ok for the benefit of those who haven’t read versus 43-44 could you please summarise it?
Question 2: I can but I don’t want to get it wrong so it would be better if the panel could read it.
Question 3: My name is Isabella, I agree completely that Islam has contributed to ideas of enlightenment over the past centuries but in 2017 the spiritual home of Islam is Saudi Arabia were obviously women aren’t even for example allowed to drive and as Azahar mentioned politics based on reasoning, I am wondering if that is a characteristic in general of Saudi Arabia and the government there?
Dr Alan Mendoza: Ok panellists, three very different questions, who wants to go first?
Azahar Aslam: Shall I answer your question about Christians? Ever since I read the name of the rose, I always thought that we were 600 behind because we started 600 behind. I think it should not take very long because you must remember that the most important Prophet after Mohammed is Jesus – Jesus is Muslims Prophet. So we all believe in Jesus and we all believe in Christians. Islam is completely clear in terms of Christians, how they will be rewarded and how they are sort of close through Muslims, so personally I think if active work is done on this then not very long.
Dr Alan Mendoza: Ok you can all answer any of the questions you would like.
Dr Usama Hasan: Thank you for the questions. I would like to say that Islam was familiar with Jesus right from the beginning and as I mentioned the Madinah cabinet was largely between Muslims and Jews, I give a translation of the Madinah cabinet in here and there is about over a dozen Jewish trades which are listed. The cabinet was largely between the Muslims and the Jews of Madinah and a handful of Christians as well. Moses and the Israelite Prophets play a huge role in the Quran, including Jesus Christ and Mary of course as Israelite’s. The early commentaries of the Quran are what we called Israelite connotations, because there was some role in merging Jews and Christians, Monks and Rabbis and others who converted to Islam and commented on the versus of the Quran, especially the kind of biblical stories from Judaism/Christian census. So I think the question is not as simple as you made it out to be, it is a much more complex relationship there is a lot of history and theology there, certainly today we need a lot more interaction and relearning, reestablishment of trust, especially between Muslims and Jews. Sadly there has been a terrible rise in Muslim antisemitism across the world, particularly in Europe but there is also sadly a rise in Jewish Islamophobia or anti-Muslim fear or hatred. It is also driven by the particular conflict in the Middle East but it is a very sad state of affairs. There is a part of the Hadith were the Prophet stands up as a Jewish funeral passes, he stands up in respect for the deceased and some of the people were not as enlightened as him and they asked the Prophet why are you standing up the guys Jewish and the Prophet replies is he not a human soul. That is a lovely story in the Hadith.
Ok over to your question sir so for the benefit of others please let me read the first 4 verses and I can give you the traditional context. The 47th chapter is entitled Mohammed after the Prophet himself, peace be upon him, it is a chapter on fighting so it is a short chapter. Context is important I am going to give that before because that is what it will reveal. This was in Madinah after years of the Mecca policies trying to work out Muslims, they attempted genocide in Mecca and Madinah they were brutally attacked and of course they tried to kill the Prophet and persecuted and tortured and killed a number of his disciples. The reference for non-believers here, this passage mentions non-believers literally those who deny the truth all the traditional commentators who were furthest to the Mecca policies, the non-believers were are that time. During Madinah Muslims actually had disagreements with over a dozen tribes and of course there were problems with two or three of those tribes, accused of betraying the trust or the agreement. You can see the list, there were over a dozen Jewish tribes also so the problem did not extend to the law.
Right so that is precisely the context for this it is a war situation between Mecca and Libya and Mecca. The chapter begins in the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate, those who deny the truth and obstruct others from the word of God, their actions have gone astray. Those who have faith and do good deeds and have faith in what was revealed to Mohammed and learn from the truth from their Lord, God will expedite their sins and will make right their matters. That is because those who deny the truth follow inaudible and those who have faith follow the truth from their Lord. Inaudible as God strikes examples for the people. That’s where we meet the non-believers and strike their necks.
This is clearly in the context of war, this is clear from all the other verses about the Quran which allowed war as a last resort after repeated attempts of genocide of the Muslims. This verse is often mis-quoted by people to say the Quran is telling Muslims to kill non-believers that is complete nonsense and I have to say it is pure ignorance and bigotry which drives that kind of ridiculous interpretation. It is in battle strike their necks, when you have defeated them then bind them, after that either release them or ransom them until war reaches its conclusion. You see there is explicit mention of war there which shows that this verse is about war. If God had wished he would have inaudible… by himself but he is testing you, some of you, against others and those who are killed in the way of God, their actions will not be wasted. So that is my answer to your question I have given you the context and the traditional interpretations of that passage. Quilliam will have a major piece coming out actually precisely on this, looking at this verse and many others and it concludes with a section on modern Islamic warfare ethics.
Mohammed Amin MBE: I will take on the Saudi Arabia question. I don’t want to add anything what Usama has said about verses 47-44, essentially you have to look at the verse and what situation the verse was addressing which was war.
Coming back to Islam and Judaism and Christianity. Christianity as a religion defined itself against Judaism and saw itself clearly as a replacement for Judaism. Islam actually didn’t, Islam sees itself as a continuation of the same religion that Abraham and Moses and the others practiced and simply sorting out a few, minor sort of errors. When I got to a Church which I do from time to time, occasionally I have to sort of stop singing because I can’t agree with the words of what is being sung. When I go to a Synagogue which I also do quite regularly, I never have that problem. I have never yet heard anything in a Synagogue service where I have to stop participating. As far as I am concerned, Islam is basically Judaism universalised because Islam has not concept of the chosen people. I wrote a piece a few years ago on my website because quite a senior Christian said something to me that contradicts the obvious. He said to me he thought that Christianity and Judaism were very close together and Islam was somewhat distant and he was talking in theological terms. I have always know that is rubbish but it took me a couple of years to actually write this piece and demonstrate it. I concluded that Sunni Islam and Judaism are so close to each other, there are minor sort of differences but very few, whereas Christianity is someway away.
Sadly, particularly over the past 100 years, Muslims have taught themselves hatred of Jews as a result of political circumstances and if you look at the way the Iraqi Jewish community was treated in the early 1940s, the way that Jews were expelled from Morocco and other Arab countries after the establishment spoke of Israel, it is a learned behaviour. It has nothing to do with the underlying theology.
Coming back now to Saudi Arabia, remember I mentioned the man who didn’t eat the watermelon because there was no mention or record of the Prophet eating a watermelon? Well there are 4 main schools of Islamic law and he was the founder of one of them and that school of Islamic law is the one which is most popular in Saudi Arabia. A couple of 100 years ago there was a chap called Mohammed Abdul Wahhabi, his followers are often described by other people as Wahhabis, they don’t like that they don’t like describing themselves as Wahhabis. They call themselves true believers essentially. He founded a very extreme, narrow view of Islam which regarded Shia Muslims for example as non-Muslims, people who should be killed. Wahhabism is effectively the official state religion in Saudi Arabia and the sort of deal between the Wahhabi religious hierarchy and the royal family, whereby the royal family is allowed to rule and enjoy itself and have all the oil wealth as long as they provide very generous subsidies for propagating the Wahhabi version of Islam around the world.
If ever you are walking past a stand in one of the underground stations in London were they are giving away free Qurans and so on go and pick one up and see where it is printed and look at the translation it is printed in Saudi Arabia and there is a page on my website called teaching Muslims religious intolerance which I wrote after I was given one of those copies of the Quran because it is utterly slanted to maximise the divide between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Dr Alan Mendoza: Right we have time for one more round.
Question 4: David Conway, I am affiliated with Civitas. I have no doubt that Islam is compatible with liberal democracy and indeed the secular type of democracy we see has much to do with Islam, I totally concur with you. However there is one tiny issue I would like to have your opinion on please. You mentioned that Islam was a philosophical inspiration for John Locke who is the architect of Liberal. At the end when he is visited on the island by Aslam who is trying to get away from a Muslim society and he goes back to the island disenchanted actually by the religion he sees on the island. He says yes follow it if you don’t understand philosophy and for us philosophers we don’t need a review of religion and actually the bottom line is, they are all much the same for masses but not for us. Now the thing what I don’t get, they all however liberal Muslims are and I have met many, many very liberal Muslims who always have the view, if you have the dictation model of revelation handed to you, you will say it is the literal truth, every word is dictated but actually now people don’t believe that and they say in their texts that that is not the case.
Question 5: Hello my name is Madeline Simpson I am a Theologian. I have a couple of questions, one actually following on from something you just said about going to churches and disagreeing with some of the theology in the content of the songs which I understand but I have been to Mosques and have not been able to participate in worship at all because I am a woman. So what I would like you to address is the end goal of Islam, what is all social action and participation in life for, what is the end goal and I see the paradise model in Islam which is deeply depressing and divided and not free. Women and the poor in a separate section and blessings and benefits to men. The Quran itself there aren’t actually any English translations or commentaries. I would question is Islam does appeal to a free society here because in the end Islam is divided and doesn’t appeal in my mind.
Question 6: I have a follow up question to Dr Hassan. Assuming you are correct in your translation of the 47th chapter and this only applies to a war situation, what shall we do when many Muslims throughout the world and especially in the west consider they are at war with the Christian world and the west?
Dr Alan Mendoza: Right, who wants to go with those three.
Dr Usama Hasan: I will comment quickly on all three in order. So religion and philosophy if you like to read I would recommend a book by inaudible… who is a great scholar who has written a book on religion and philosophy. It is not very long, there is a very good English translation available which you will find online. You know when you said philosophers don’t need religion, that idea was discussed very early on within Islam and for example in chapter 16 in a verse called the Honeybee it is a famous verse which says look upon your own world with wisdom, beautiful preaching and argue with them in ways when debating with them which are better. They are widely quoted by preachers across society. Even inaudible the 3 which he quotes specifically he says wisdom is philosophy, he says beautiful preaching that preaches to the masses and the third one is debating and dispute. He says these are the 3 ways to get to the truth and different people have rights to different ones. So it is an ongoing discussion as you said and there is a rich tradition of that within Islam.
Your question, I think you have misunderstood the parallels about the nature of the Quran and the literal dictation model and that is not the only model. I alluded to it, creative vs uncreative, human vs Devine. The traditional idea of God sending Gabriel to the Prophet and giving him the revelation word for word inaudible.., had a different way of looking at it because they identified Gabriel as a positive spirit, or the spirit of God with the cosmic intellect as well and they speak about the Prophet receiving inspiration through the signs of God but not everything is sacred and that correlates actually with the human aspect of the Quran as well as the inaudible.. that it comes through the Prophet as a human being but it is the word of God, the Devine revelation expressed in the human language in very clear Arabic language, since the revelation of the Quran.
Similarly with paradise, a separate section for the poor and women that is not in the Quran at all, there may be one or two obscure Hadith but very strange what you said there, paradise domestically and clerics argue that the higher aspect of paradise is the vision of God, being in the presence of God. There is a higher level to worship which is to worship God for the sake of God alone, to be good for the sake of good itself because you like beauty and truth. The idea of paradise is divisive when it is the higher aspect of paradise in the Quran is the only vision of God and it is a very bizarre theological question.
Gender equality is a fundamental principle of the Quran, I refer to a Youtube lecture on this which mentions believer’s men and women – those who fast men and women, those who give to charity men and women. There is a long list and it ends entirely with those to remember God, men and women. If you look at all the verses beginning with oh humanity and there are very many in the Quran, the very last one to be revealed is what I call the Martin Luther King moment, 13 centuries before Martin Luther King because it says that humanity was created for male and female and inaudible… in the sight of God inaudible… whose conduct it the best. The Prophet said on his final farewell sermon that everyone is equal which is an ultimate revelation and the inaudible… the Quran the emphasis is on equality and the deliberation of slaves. He said black is equal to white, white is equal to black, Arab over non-Arab, Arab and non-Arab are equal which is again revolutionary for Arab society.
So that teaching of equality is actually very clear and when Martin Luther King said he had a dream that one day people would be judged by the conduct of their character and not by the colour of their skin that was actually an inaudible… 13 centuries earlier in the Quran and also in the final sermon by the Prophet in the Mount of Mercy. So that for me is providing for the society based on liberty, compassion and virtue and it is also connected to the Devine, a sense of the sacred and a sense of the higher purpose and paradise reflects that.
Finally, your question about ye some Muslims do believe the war between the Islamic world and the Christian world etc. and that is a medieval idea which I talk about here. The old idea of Islam was that the world was divided into the land of Islam and the land of non-Islam and the land of non-Islam could be peaceful or at war. It was actually quite a sophisticated division which was pioneering to inaudible theory which I talk about in there. Shahab Ali was one of the earliest people to write a book on international relations 12 centuries ago and that kind of developed. It developed differently in other parts of the world now all the major modern theologies on Islam agree regarding the nation states and beyond the nation states now because they are talking about citizenship prior the 19th century and major reform with an Ottoman parliament. They were influenced by ideas clearly from America and France at the end of the 18th century and they incorporated all of that and they saw it as coming from the Madinah cabinet we have talked about, a civilised state were people come together in the world to defend the common interests and leave their religious differences inaudible..
Now it is true of course that a few extremists and terrorist groups like ISIS, the Taliban and others still believe in that medieval model that is very clear from their writings. But it is something we ourselves and the vast majority of Muslims around the world are actively trying to combat conflict and violence and terrorism.
Mohammed Amin MBE: I am just going to tackle the theology in paradise question. First of all the most important Mosque in the world is the one in Mecca. When my wife and I were there in 2002 we prayed side by side as did all the other married couples. The way that some mosques don’t provide any prayer space for women, typically cheap Northern mosques were some Pakistani origin men have got together and created a mosque and they only made enough space for themselves that is what they sort of built. A better standard is when you actually get two levels with women upstairs that is actually not unreasonable that is the same as an Orthodox Synagogue for example.
When you read the Quran, the Quran has far more gender equality than you find in other religions. What has happened is that our highly tribal society amongst the Arabs have effectively subverted the religion to go back to the kind of society that they always wanted to have, what they had before Islam ever came along. Islam itself has a very strong message of gender equality.
Paradise, Usama has answered the question about hierarchies in paradise I am not going to get into that but my view is very simple. All religions are based around 2 things – how you live your life now, following the dictates of God should actually make your life a better life than it would have been if you hadn’t followed that religion. I am being quite honest, in terms of its impact upon practitioners of the religion, if I had to vote for the best religion the one I would actually vote for is the Church of Jesus Christ. I have got to know the Mormons very well over the last 5/6 years. In terms of its impact on the adherence of the religion, I don’t know of any better religion and I am including every religion. The reason I am a Muslim and not a Mormon is because I don’t personally believe that Mormonism is true, I do believe that Islam is true. Islam practice properly should make your life better, if you see Muslims who are living miserable, horrible lives it is a pretty good indicator to me that they are not practicing Islam very well. The second part of a religion of course is what happens after you die in paradise.
Finally this point about no Quran translations only through commentaries, this is a bit of sort of theology gone mad. The text of the Quran is in Arabic, the same way that the text of the Torah is in Hebrew. If you are reciting prayers in a synagogue you do them in Hebrew particularly Orthodox Jews, more reformed Jews are willing to pray in translation. That is in the same way as Islam only the Arabic parts of the text can be used in Arabic. That does not stop people translating it into other languages, it has been translated into other languages and let’s call them translations rather than commentaries. That distinction is purely an ideological statement in the same way that quite often you will find Muslims, say if Linda became a Muslim, there are lots of Muslims who would say they reverted to Islam they would call her a revert not a convert because the ideology is that every baby is born Muslim and then it is their parents who make them turn religious. The use of the word revert is an ideological statement rather than using plain English convert and it is exactly the same ideological approach which makes people say these are not translations of the Quran, the Quran cannot be translated, it is only commentaries. Of course it has been translated it is like any other text. The original text is the text, if you speak a different language then you need expert translation obviously once you start translating from one language to another this challenges what is the correct understanding etc. Of course it can be translated.
Azahar Aslam: I was talking about the puralality which used to be part and parcel of the Muslim nations and it just literally shows what you were saying later on that people don’t use to believe whatever they used to believe and that was perfectly fine and went on. Whether we believe in the literal truth of it, I think it is just a matter of personal belief. As a Muslim, inaudible… believe in the literal truth or not and I know of Muslims who say they will not believe in that. The Quran also says to the Prophet that you are here to teach inaudible… but that has been interpreted as wisdom, reasoning etc. and different interpretations have been applied.
Talking about the end of social action there are verses of the Quran, thinking about it but the purpose and the 3 verses which read almost the same ‘we have not created heaven and earth but for you to prove yourselves worthy in your deeds and the purpose of man is to prove themselves worthy in their deeds.’ I think that is the Quran suggests, as I was talking about it the morality of it that it is quite clear we have been divided into different people, different nations. Allah was talking about identification and the sole, single reason is who is going to be better. I have actually written a big paper and studied this freedom of choice and four themes came out in my study of the Quran, it is mentioned in 82 verses, 82 verses actually talk about freedom. One of the themes is God is the ultimate judge so human beings are not allowed to make some judgements like when we were talking about blasphemy and apothecia and all that. The second is individual responsibility and the third and very important one is the limit the Quran places on the role of the Prophet were he says repeatedly that your task is to deliver the message and that is it, you are not there to force anything. This is a very important point because as both my colleagues will admit, we see Muslims Prophet as a role model and his Sunna so if God has placed a limit on the Prophet it simply means that I can ask any Muslim, that is the limit which has been placed on the Prophet, how dare you go above that limit. I can promise you even the most extreme Muslim will have no answer to that at all because the Prophet is after all the role model. The fourth thing is freedom of choice and mind you I must also read the last ayah of Quran which is the last revealed ayah ‘be conscious of the day that you shall be brought back to God were upon every human being shall be repaid in full for what we have earned and none shall be wronged.’
In terms of this paradise I can promise you, at least for sub continental countries than were I am there are more jokes about paradise than anything else. Nobody will take them things seriously. We have more jokes about this paradise business than taking it seriously and I have never read about segregation of women in paradise or anything like that at all.
In the 90s when I was doing my studies and travel, I had a lot of family background in where I come from in Pakistan where most Pakistani origins come from. I saw a lot of my cousins going into forces and all those societies and what I saw very actively happening was what Mohammed Amin mentioned, Saudi money. I have seen recently in Madinah and Mecca were they have groups and they are teaching them their version of Islam. Interestingly one thing which have noticed because I have visited Mecca with my wife very recently is that while women and men used to prayer together in front of Haram, what Saudis have done recently in the past few months is they have started to segregate them and they try to push women to the back rows. There are people going around when you are getting ready for prayer singling out females and saying to them you should just go back. This is a very much Saudi problem and I promise you there are a lot of Muslims who don’t believe what Saudi says and it is completely crap.
Dr Alan Mendoza: I have to draw a line under it there because we have run over time. It has been so fascinating really the three of you have presented a very interesting set of interpretations, I get back to what Mohammed said at the start, there is a text and there is interpretation. I think we should be very thankful that we have three forceful personalities who know their areas of Islam very well and are willing to go and discuss the liberal foundations. If you would like to buy the book you can do outside. Thank you to our guests for joining us.