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Topics - Ferrell Katz

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Philosophy, Religion & Society / Context and the Qur'an
« on: May 19, 2021, 03:30:22 PM »
"You took that out of context!" is a frequent complaint made when a verse is quoted from the Qur'an. Okay, but so what? Every word in the Qur'an was revealed by Mohamed between 610 and 632 CE, and is associated with whatever was happening at the time. Therefore, every verse has situational context, but is knowing that context necessary in understanding the message a verse was meant to convey?

It's worth noting that historical context was not a factor to the compilers of the Qur'an, because they put it together without any consideration for chronology. For example, surah 2 is actually the 87th revealed and 12 years into Islam's evolution. If it didn't matter to the compilers, why should it matter to the reader?

The bottom line is that the Qur'an says what it says. Many verses, although stated for a specific reason, are worded in such a way as to make a statement of fact or to issue a general, on-going command. Verse 39:27 explains it nicely, "And indeed We have put forth for men, in this Quran every kind of similitude in order that they may remember".

For example, verse 9:111 was revealed in late 630 after Mohamed had taken an army north to Tabuk in a failed attempt to battle, and thereby start a war with, the Byzantines. As usual, the Arab Bedouin tribes (Hypocrites) had refused to join Mohamed's army, and the Qur'an was taking them to task for the umpteenth time for their reluctance to see blood spilled (especially their own). Verse 9:111 was part of that dressing down. It says, "Allah hath bought from the believers their lives and their wealth because the Garden will be theirs: they shall fight in the way of Allah and shall slay and be slain". I fail to see how God telling Muslims they have to fight to get into Heaven needs to be set up by a history lesson.

Philosophy, Religion & Society / When did Islam introduce fighting?
« on: May 02, 2021, 03:11:06 PM »
NOTE: This is not a cut and paste from a web site. I spent 18 months rereading the Qur'an in chronological order and summarizing it. This is from that summary.

In the first 12 years of Islam's creation Mohamed lived in the pagan city of his birth, Mecca. He spent those years trying to convince the Meccans that he had been chosen as God's final prophet, and that they should abandon their pagan ways and follow him in worship of the one and only true god. They ignored him. Two thirds of the Qur'an came from that period and all without so much as one word about fighting.

After he and his very small following moved to Medina, things changed overnight. If the expression, "Wait. What?" were in vogue at the time, it probably would have run through the minds of converts after the revelation of verses 2:154 and 2:155:

- 154 "Do not consider those who are slain for the cause of God to be dead. They are alive but you are unaware of them".
- 155 "Be sure We shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere".

During the revelation of surah 2, Mohamed embarked on a campaign that changed not only the nature of Islam, but the course of history. He started a war with the pagans of Mecca by raiding their trade caravans. For the first time, Muslims were instructed to take lives by fighting "fee sabil Allah (in the cause of God)". The pagans responded by sending forces to protect their caravans, but, despite having superior numbers, were defeated by the Muslims in the Battle of Badr (CE 624). This sparked a seven year war that ended in complete victory for the Muslims and control of Mecca and the Kaaba. These raids were the first action in a pattern of aggression that would escalate and eventually turn into the campaigns of conquest that resulted in the creation of a vast Islamic caliphate within only 100 years of Mohamed's death.

Muslims dispute this. They claim the raids were justified based on persecution they suffered at the hands of the pagans before the Hijrah. What they do not, and can not, claim is that physical abuse of Muslims occurred during that period. There are no verses in the Qur'an that speak of harm inflicted; only of mockery and refusal to obey Mohamed and abandon their long-held beliefs and gods. They also do not dispute that the 'first arrow' was fired by a Muslim named Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas when his party was sent to raid a caravan (although the raid was eventually called off). Rather, they celebrate Sa'd as a folk hero.

For Mohamed to order military action "in the cause of God", he was faced with being able to claim that a clearly offensive strike would be justified and in compliance with God's wishes. The Qur'an would therefore have to supply him with two revelations that were not so much as hinted at in all 86 Meccan surahs; a direct command to fight, and moral justification for taking lives. To that end, the following two verses were conveniently revealed:

- 190 "Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors".
- 191 "And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression (fitnah) are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith".

Verse 190 provided the order to fight, but only in self-defense, which by itself did not justify an attack against the pagans, as there is no indication in the Qur'an that any Muslims had been killed. Therefore, Mohamed could not accuse them of being "those who fight you". He immediately solved that problem in 191 by providing a work-around that moves the goal posts in such a vague and open-end manner as to designate virtually any unbeliever an enemy. It breaks down as follows:

- "And slay them wherever ye catch them" removed any doubt that blood-letting had been introduced to Islam.
- "and turn them out from where they have turned you out" is a clear reference to Mohamed's claim that he was forced to flee Mecca.
- "for tumult and oppression (fitnah) are worse than slaughter" introduced 'fitnah' as a catch-all crime against Islam that, in the space of one verse, effectively dropped self-defense to second place as a reason to make war.

The importance of the definition of 'fitnah', and of adding it to self-defense as the basis for which Muslims can justify attacking non-Muslims, cannot be stressed enough. 'Fitnah' is described in various English translations as any action that either impedes the practice of Islam ("suppresses faith") or simply violates any of God's commandments as stated in the Qur'an. For example, Christians are guilty of 'fitnah' every time they pray to Jesus rather than God. Six of the seven translations given in define 'fitnah' as tumult, oppression, or persecution, whereas the seventh, by Muhammad Sarwar, goes so far as to translate it as "the sin of disbelief in God".

The only 'crimes' the Meccans had committed against Islam were to "deny God's signs" (refuse to adopt Islam), and to 'desecrate' the Kaaba by using it for polytheist prayer. But, thanks to verse 191, it became enough to warrant an attack. However, that was just the beginning of the influence verse 191 had in shaping history. It not only provided the excuse Mohamed needed to attack the Meccans, and although it was crafted to solve a short term problem, it established the criteria that has inspired Islamic jihad for 1400 years and counting.

Verse 191 is noteworthy for a third reason. Although it targeted the pagans of Mecca, it demonstrates a method of instruction commonly used in the Qur'an. While the first part of the verse is specific to a given circumstance, the concluding statement is generic and suggestive of a wider application. In this case, "Such is the reward of those who suppress faith" implies that military action would be an appropriate response against any person, tribe, or nation deemed guilty of 'suppressing faith'.

The next two verses describe how far to take the fight, and what the outcome is expected to be:

- 192 "But if they cease, Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful".
- 193 "And fight with them until there is no persecution (fitnah), and religion should be only for Allah, but if they desist, then there should be no hostility except against the oppressors".

Verses 190 and 192, if quoted together and without contextual consideration of surrounding and later verses, give the impression that fighting is to be strictly defensive, and that hostilities must cease as soon as the enemy quits the battle. However, 191 and 193 add conditions that paint a decidedly more aggressive picture, as they give 'fitnah' as sufficient reason to engage in hostilities, and state that annihilation of the enemy is required until "religion should be only for Allah".

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