Islam, among the three major Abrahamic religions, chronologically Judaism, Christianity and Islam, was the only religion introduced to mere pagans. Judaism of Moses was one in the series of Hebrew prophecies. Based on Talmud (Judaic scriptures), Hebrews received prophecies of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob before Moses, according to Talmud also, the time gaps between prophecies were not wide enough to enable deviation from the Hebrew doctrines to idolatry before Torah introduction by Moses.
Christianity was introduced to Jews. Separating Moses from Christ, 43 male apostles and 7 apostleesses of God were recorded. This affirms the drift of faith before Christ was only moral not theological drift, we understand from New Testament that Jesus Christ was not re-introducing monotheism to Jews, only moral doctrines. On the other hand, and according to Islamic tradition, Ishmael son of Abraham was the last apostle in Arab peninsula before Muhammad (pbuh) and history does not contradict Islamic faith about prophecies absence. Moreover it supports the fact that Arab peninsula was dominated by paganism prior to Islam. Yes, Judaism and Christianity existed, also some monotheistic cults with Abrahamic embed were surviving, yet, most of Arabia belonged to different polytheistic doctrines, a fair mix of totemic and pagan beliefs that were interactive and undergoing continual change according to ascend and descend of related tribes power.
In South Arabia, known as Yemen today, an astral religion dominated with its holy triad of Moon God, Sun Goddess, and Venus Goddess. Some scholars shades doubts over this theory claiming the ancient Yemen deities to be atypical for astral religions, nevertheless, the majority believed it to be typical enough. Some minor deities existed besides the major triad, like Wadd, and Am. While in Northern Arabia, Hejaz being part, they believed in one supreme deity, giving him the name Ilah or Ill, and they believed in his veneration to some lower capacity Gods and Goddesses, AI-Lat, AI-Uzza, and Manat, those whom Quran called the "claimed daughters of God". These are also known from earlier inscriptions in northern Arabia. Another principal goddess was Ruda, whose name is the feminine form of Arso, a deity whom Herodotus had mentioned in the 5th century BC along with AI-Lat as the sole recipients of worship among Arabs. Factually, they were not sole by any mean, and they were not worshipped among all Arabs, it was Herodotus comprehension, most probably based on the theology of the tribes he contacted. However, the idea of a supreme deity named Allah that is higher in divinity rank above all was quite common in Arabia, linked to prophecy of Ishmael. Possibly, after the polytheistic drifts developed due to absence of apostles after Ishmael and before Muhammad (pbuh) compared to Judaic case.
We referred to the common beliefs before Islam, therefore we can understand on the light of this background, why Islam adopted some approaches. For example, numerous orientalists had commented the level of details in Quran and more noticeably in teachings of Muhammad (pbuh). They perceived it to be over-detailed whenever allegorized to New Testament, missing the fact that New Testament was directed to people with monotheistic faith, recipients who are already monotheistic and practicing rituals, moreover having their own social law, laws of Moses. Antagonistically, Islam reintroduced monotheism to Arabian tribes who had been for ages implanted in tribalism and structured over totemic and pagan practices. Accordingly, the mission complexity necessitated more elaborations and education.
Another example, reveals with a second orientalist inquiry, wondering why Islam had to prohibit pimping activities in a separate verse, while fornication was already prohibited in several verses? Referring to the verse “But force not your maids to prostitution, in order that you may make a gain. But if anyone compels them, yet, after such compulsion, is God, Oft-Forgiving, and Most Merciful to the forced girls” Light: 33. The source of confusion here to the inquirer, was the absence of sacred prostitution element from his mind. In the pagan society of Quraish before Islam, a form of sacred sex in terms of specified pleasure houses, flagged with red, were scattered around Ka’aba. The whoredom was carried out by female salves belonging to prominent masters from Quraish, Umayyads’ ancestor being one. The term Zina in Arabic, meaning fornication, did not include the act of sacred sex with a professional whore, it was limited to sexual affairs outside marriage framework with a free woman whether married or not. Therefore, prohibiting sacred sex was essential apart from fornication for further confirmation.
Tribalism & Societal Implications
The ambience where religions were first introduced, sheds light about the intellectual composition of the persons who were the early converters to the new religion, those disciples who represented the new faith to the rest of the world. When we talk about disciples of Jesus, or apprentices of Muhammad (pbuh), we know they were essentially part of their societies. Their perception of faith, though being pure and directly sourced, must have been processed by their own intellectual comprehension according to their era and social environs. The noteworthiness of this cultural background may be emphasized by the example of Sikhism in Indian subcontinent. Sikhism is the result of Islam introduction to India, where Islamic faith intensively interacted with the Hindus faith resulting into a third belief that is different with both.
A second more popular example is the influence of Paul the Apostle on Christian theology, which was to most of clerical researchers a remarkable influence. Even more than Jesus’ genuine disciples, Paul bestowed the Catholic faith, as we know it today, many of its attributes. The doctrine of Substitutionary atonement, building the belief that Jesus Christ died on the cross as a substitute for sinners. In addition, doctrine of Incarnation, as well as all other pillars of today’s Catholicism was Pauline in derivation. Did this Anatolian Jew, affected by his innovative theological understanding, introduce these new concepts? Was being afar from the heart of Judaic society, made his understanding uniquely different when compared to Jesus direct dispels, who were basically grown in the womb of Judaism Orthodoxy in Jerusalem? Positive answers of these two questions represent a believed-in scenario by numerous scholars of Christian theology.
The role of social environment where revelation starts is a key background to understand properly any faith. Tribalism accordingly, stands as a key to the three major Abrahamic religions. As we clarified the role of Paul fertilizing the Christian theology with his doctrines, nevertheless, the fact that the three religions were all first revealed in tribal societies remains valid & valuable.
Tribalism is a social system where society is divided into small, roughly independent subgroups, called tribes. Tribes are further divided to clans based on closer kinship bonds among individuals. We shall give some examples on how the society exchanged influence with Islamic faith. As the tribal society relies mainly on adoption of pastured land, almost all animal husbandry tribal societies were male domination societies; male domination was justified with the reliance on masculine power to dominate pastures and springs. This was the reason Islam had to handle several hypotheses related to anti-feminist attitude in Arabia, like heritage, as tribes of Arabia used to inherit males only, in a fatherly kinship chain, besides other topics that needed a full Surah (Quranic chapter) to rectify its drifts. So Islamic attention to woman rights was urged by the severe masculine culture dominated the region of revelation and approximately the old world by that time.
Similarly, the everlasting argument about Muhammad’s nine wives is expected only when we deny the environmental and timely ingredients from the equation. However, when we consider what was acceptable for an Arabian leader in the 7th century, according to the polygamy acclimation that was perceived as a sign of honor, we find the fact of Muhammad (pbuh) practicing polygamy needs no pleas. He was an Arabian master and behaved socially like one!!
As a direct translation word-by-word from Arabic to any other language is almost impossible, some Arabic words will require a statement to explain it in English, and vice versa. Therefore, unlike the bible translations, Quranic translations, being translations of meanings, are highly variable. It depended, in most of cases, on the translators understanding of the message or more frequently on old interpretations of Quran, that translator relied on. Therefore, two levels of human interactions separate us from the divine meanings when we read Quran in English, the interaction of the ancient interpreter and the interaction of the modern translator.
In this work, we used three different translations of the holy verses to ensure the translation to be in consonance with the interpretation, as we understand it. Sometimes even, we had to use a vocabulary outside these translations if we did not find among them what serves the Arabic meaning validly. The three translations we employed here were,
- Marmaduke Pickthall Translation
- Arthur J. Arberry Translation
- Abdulla Yusuf Ali Translation
Quran Exegesis and Holiness of Heritage
Tafsir in Arabic means exegesis or interpretation. Also as an Islamic term, it refers to the interpretation of the Holy Scripture of Quran. Interpretation of Quran is usually believed essentially to require high level of knowledge of Arabic language and its sciences, knowledge of Quranic sciences related to abrogation and variable narrations. Moreover, in-depth knowledge of Islamic history to understand relatedness of the verses to the situation it handles, and finally good knowledge of apostle’s oral traditions related to Quran or explaining it.
In this work, we demonstrate the verses in its English translation. Yet, we depend in our interpretation on the original verses in Arabic, as surely, it gives the best insight about the real meanings of the verse, and whenever possible we will explain the interpretation relative to the original Arabic wording. We relied on different exegeses, aiming to get inspirations that allow us to figure out our own. Yet, Tabary exegesis was the best supporter in the entire work. Knowing we deal with a word-of-mouth culture, dominated by illiteracy in most of cases, we usually prefer to go to the oldest interpretations as it carried the least human interactions in the comprehension of the Holy Scripture.Whenever we discuss traditional exegesis, we should always remember that most of it were written several centuries ago. Tabary exegesis in the 10th century, Rhazi and Ibn-Abbas exegeses in the 13th century, Jalalayn in the 16th century. Besides these widely popular works, some modern interpretations existed like Zelal Quran by S. Qotb and Wasit by S. Tantawy. Yet, the major focus of the modern exegeses was to simplify the language and presentation to enhance its palatability to today’s readers; it was a matter of digestibility. Unpropitiously, tracing the tendency to modernize understanding based on today’s world and its implications, we will find it minimal even in the recent most Tafsirs
Apostolic Teachings & Verification Methodology
Hadieth means speech, and as Islamic term, it means the oral traditions based on Apostle Muhammad (pbuh) words. The messenger’s words are considered as part of a wider concept that is apostle’s tradition, known as Sunnah. Which as a word, means way, while as a term it stands as abbreviation of the statement Sunnah of Apostle, meaning his way. It represents the tradition based on apostle’s words, deeds, history and consensus.
Apostolic tradition is believed to complement Quran, completing a comprehensive faith guideline and rituals’ codes. This belief was based on some verses in Quran, one of them is “And whatsoever the messenger gives you, take it, and whatsoever he forbids, abstain from it” Exile: 07. However, unlike Quran, apostolic tradition was not written during Muhammad’s life, it was written not before one century after him, so the question was always, did the apostle say these words and did those deeds or not?
Tradition scientists’ or Muhadithen, usually kept no focus on the contained text to verify the degree of accuracy and the possibility it pertains to apostle’s talks or deeds. However, they relied on many other different methodologies, most importantly,
- Classification according to the source of the narrated text, if it is narrated in apostle’s own words it is called Elevated, if narrated in the words of one of his direct disciples they call it Ceased, and in case it is narrated by one of the 2nd generation disciples it is called Severed, each with different degree of reliability.
- According to the continuity of reporting line and the accuracy of its information, classifying it into various categories including Supported, unsupported, suspended …etc.
- According to no of reporters, classifying to grades of mono-narrated, multi- narrated, and Agreed-on.
- According to reliability and integrity of reporters. For example, some reporters were rejected as they were accused for false witnessing in legal cases. The principle was that, when we talk bout word-of-mouth tradition, whoever can lie once, could principally lie more.
Thus, a minimal regard was given to the contained, text to verify its compatibility or contradiction with the meanings contained in Quran, other teachings of Muhammad (pbuh), or in the history of the apostle’s deeds. Except for Motazila who regarded the text to be equally important as the reference as a tool for verification, or even more vital one.
Jurisprudence and Evolvement of Faith
In language, fiqh means understanding, and for its meaning in terminology; we would use the comprehensive definition of the Islamic sociologist, Ibn Khaldun who had defined it as; “knowledge of the rules of God which concern the actions of persons who own themselves bound to obey the law respecting what is required, forbidden, recommended, disapproved or merely permitted". In other words, it is the Islamic disciplines acclaimed to control public as well as personal life.
Fiqh was one subject highly liable for misunderstanding throughout Islamic history. It was intended to digest the broad roles of Islam, in terms of morality, code of ethics, and public roles in the first place. After gaining this knowledge, jurist usually starts to derive Islamic judgments and roles for different cases. Therefore, the base was wide concepts of Islam that is fixed, and every jurist can derive out of it what fits with his time and place frameworks.
Needful to mention, some of the pioneer jurists changed remarkably in their teachings when they moved from Medina to Iraq or Egypt, because of the contrasting social environments calling for variant applications, and they were always flexible changing their ways, as far as they preserve the faith broad lines. Unfortunately, the momentum of this science was kept for a little more than a century. Then decelerated to pre-cessation speed afterward, generation after another, the detailed works of great jurists acquired holiness itself, it became regarded as the foundations of Islam, and acquired a baseless claim of eternal applicability. No wonder we find the works of the four major jurists in Sunna stream, Abu-Hanifa (699-767 AD), Malik (714–796), Shafi (767-820) and Ibn-Hanbal (780–855) all performed in around 120 years, during Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates. While starting from 855 AD and until today, we did not have a major work that stands as complete and widely supported as these four. Same applies also to Shiites jurists works but with a different time schedule, that ends finally with the same state of stagnation.
Was the reason a lack of mental resources?
No, we think it is more likely to be the anesthetic feeling that what we have already is enough. Therefore, we would better develop it than reconsider it. Simply, we relied on these works, which were of course great assets in its time and within the temporal boundaries of its conditions. Yet, it was not meant to stop at this level, it was meant to continue and prosper, so the roles can be updated according to social and temporal developments and in accordance with the evolvement of people needs.
Another notice we find out studying fiqh scholarships is that jurists were more liberal earlier in the start of Umayyad era more than those who came later in Umayyad and Abbasid eras. With the hazing effect of time, the global picture that was intended and was quite clear in the minds of direct disciples, were getting fader and fader. Fearing to get lost after losing the global vision, the compass, the captains were sticking more and more to the shore, to the details and trivialities. Accordingly, striving for more and more details, Muslims allowed exogenous thrusts creeping into Islamic literature from other philosophies and religions, mainly from the Old Testament and Judaism traditions. Logically it was not all enriching. Sometimes it was drifting factors. This era was the one wherein seeds of fanaticism were first embedded in Islam, acquiring the xenophobic mindset from the Old Testament. It was then when Islam started to be skeletoned of its unique evolvement abilities.