This essay is part of a series on the rise and fall of Islam, the life of Muhammad, the content of the Qur’an, and the identity of Allah. This essay will explore the Qur’an via following topics:
- What is the role of the Qur’an in Islam?
- How did the Qur’an came together?
- Are there errors in the Qur’an?
- What exactly is Jihad?
- The Qur’an and Sharia Law
1. WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE QUR’AN IN ISLAM?
The word Qur’an is derived from qara, which means to read or recite. According to Islamic tradition, but not historical evidence, the Qur’an was the first major book ever published in the Arabic language. Previous to the Qur’an Arabic was essentially an oral language only. It is claimed that Muhammad, like most of his countrymen, was illiterate. However this claim flies in the face of his well-established business skills and acumen, the large amount of content in the Qur’an that is taken directly from other ancient books, and the widespread use of the written Arabic language for hundreds of years before the time of Muhammad. It is almost certain that the ideal of Muhammad being illiterate is a later fabrication designed to enhance the so called miraculous nature of the Qur’an.
The Qur’an is structurally organised into 114 Surahs. Surah means step. Within each Surah are a number of verses called ayats, which means sign. Just think chapters and verses as in the Bible. However, don’t expect anything similar to the narratives and stories of the Old and New Testaments. Surah’s do not follow chronology, tell stories or explain events. Topics, events, revelations and thoughts appear randomly. Within the Qur’an’s amalgam of theology, sermons, theses and law codes there is no obvious progression of thought. In addition, the same idea is often repeated.
Large slabs of the Old Testament, New Testament and early Christian era apocryphal writings appear as well, but are altered to suit Muhammad’s perspective and message. In addition, Surahs were ordered according to their length, as was the custom of the day for all books, including the New Testament. A huge amount of skill is therefore needed to piece together the flow of revelation in the Qur’an. Because of these formidable exegetical obstacles, ordinary Muslims often know very little of the contents of the Qur’an and rely on Jurists and Imams to interpret it for them.
The relationship between the Qur’an and the Arabic language has been symbiotic ever since Muhammad first declared his revelations sacred. Because he performed no miracles when challenged, Muhammad responded by saying the Qur’an itself was the miracle and the basis of his authority (Q 2:23). In declaring the book itself as the power behind his authority, he forever elevated the Qur’an to the very core of Islamic culture. However, Muhammad is the sole source of this claim. No external evidence exists to back it up. The Qur’an is divine only because Muhammad said so, and Muhammad was Allah’s prophet only because the Qur’an, his book, said so (Q 4:163-6). It is therefore a very clever circular argument, placing both Muhammad and his Qur’an beyond question. Was it doubted by many? The Qur’an itself answers in the affirmative in many places by handing out curse upon curse to the many fellow Arabs who were doubting and mocking Muhammad’s revelations. (Q 26:190-192, Q10:104, Q 4:167-169).
So why was it eventually so widely accepted?
Before Islam, memorisation was fundamental to the transfer of knowledge in Arabic. Spoken poetry and oratory were the highest forms of Arabic art and they took precedence over painting, sculpture, music, writing and drama. So a poet was a very important person in the community. When a poet spoke people listened. Muhammad didn’t like poetry (Q 36:69), but because of the culture of the time he was increasingly seen as an important orator as his revelations expanded. Without these cultural pre-conditions it is doubtful Islam would exist today. It is also why recitation of the Qur’an remains one of the highest art forms in Islamic societies today
The original revelations from Muhammad were committed to memory, but after many of his followers were killed in battle large segments of those revelations were lost forever. This drove the second generation of Muslim leaders to record the revelations into a single book. The initial desire of Muslims to write and share the Qur’anic revelations drove the spread of Arabic throughout the Middle East, embedding the Qur’an’s centrality in Arabic culture. The two became deeply entwined over the next two centuries. Because the Qur’an was divine (Q 2:23, 10:37-38), by extension the Arabic language was also divine (Q 26: 194-5).
This signed, sealed and delivered proof of the divine origin of the Qur’an and Arabic drives disdain for all other literature and languages within the Islamic worldview. For example, when Egypt was captured in 641AD the Muslim commander asked Caliph Umar in Medina for instructions as to what to do with the great library of Alexandria. The reply was chilling. If the books agreed with the Qur’an they were not necessary and can be destroyed. If they disagreed, they were to be destroyed. And as late as 2000AD, before the advent of the internet, a pathetically small number of western books, some 300 odd, were being translating into Arabic annually.
Islamic doctrine holds that the Qur’an is the exact copy of an original, errorless, uncreated prototype kept on tablets in heaven (Q 5;15, 16:89, 25:1) that is an extension of Allah himself. In Christianity the word became flesh, in Islam it became a book, inseparable from Allah himself. The Qur’an claims this errorless prototype was transmitted to Muhammad via angels chiefly Gabriel (Q 16:2 16:102 26:192-200). The transmission process remains a mystery of course, which serves both to enhance its reputation in the Islamic world, and scepticism outside it.
Muhammad taught that he Qur’an must be believed and obeyed perfectly. It must never questioned or critiqued. This explains why Islam places so much emphasis on memorising the whole Qur’an in Arabic. It is the very core and unifying factor in Islam, Some would argue it is the only unifying factor. This is why you will find Islamic scholars falling over themselves today with claims that the Qur’an was revealed in the most eloquent, articulate, and elaborate style that the Arabic language and the world has ever known. This, in their minds is the ultimate proof enough of its divine origin. The Qur’an to them is the greatest miracle in the history of the world and is therefore beyond culture, question and translation. It is also why so much ceremonial ritual surrounds the reading and physical location of the Qur’an.
The Qur’an is said to have been revealed to Muhammad in three stages over 23 years. Stages one and two were during the Meccan years of hardship. Stage three was in Medina, the militarily victorious years. The Medinan sections of the Qur’an are the easiest to find and understand as they often give divine approval to Muhammad’s leadership and battles. They are also dotted with revelations that personally advantage Muhammad, justify violence, and they arrive just in time, or just after for the occasion at hand. An example is the revelation that Allah approved of Muhammad’s taking his adopted sons wife for himself, an action reprehensible in Arabic culture. They also contain frequent curses aimed at the Jews who refused to acknowledge his authority.
2. HOW DID THE QUR’AN CAME TOGETHER?
There is now much debate among scholars as to the origin of the Qur’an. The idea that it appears fully formed in one short span of time with such a bold departure from previous culture, tradition and belief is now questioned in many academic halls. Major changes in worldview take time. Its accuracy is now open to debate since because of the following discoveries:
- All mosques faced Petra, not Mecca for the first hundred years after Muhammad’s death. You can see them here.
- The existence of Mecca is unknown in any ancient writings or records until at least a hundred years after Muhammad’s death
- Muhammad describes Mecca as having olive groves and vineyards. These cannot grow in that climate
- Arabic is a Nabataean language, the language of Petra
- A short section of the Qur’an, with Surahs and ayats included has been carbon dated as coming from the 570-645AD era. This is too early for such a well-structured manuscript.
These discoveries will be further investigated in a later version of this essay. The traditional Islamic version of the origin of the Qur’an that appears below comes largely from the official sayings and biographies of Muhammad (the sunnahs and hadiths) that were only recorded some two hundred years after the facts were supposed to have occurred.
Contrary to popular belief, the Qur’an was not a complete book by the time of Muhammad’s death. There is a long process of recording, revision, culling and editing between what Muhammad said and what we read in the modern Qur’an. Initially scribes helped write down many of Muhammad’s revelations in piecemeal fashion on whatever was available at the time. But most Surahs and ayats were committed to memory by Muhammad’s followers, as per the custom of the era. There is even some evidence from one Hadith that Muhammad forgot some ayats himself (Sunan Abu Dawud, vol 3, p.1114). At the time of Muhammad’s death there were scattered recordings and many Qur’anic orators. It is quite clear from Muhammad’s actions that he never thought of compiling a written copy for posterity. That it was to be memorised was a completely normal line of thinking for that culture and time in history.
The fact we have a book called the Qur’an is almost an accident of history. Soon after his death Arab tribes started rebelling against Islam. In one fight, the battle of Yamama, hundreds of Muslims who had memorised the sayings of Muhammad were killed and these verbal verses of the Qur’an were lost forever (Ibn Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Masahif, p.23). Hazrat Umar then urgently proposed to the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, that the sayings and revelations be collected and collated. But Muhammad had never instructed this to be done so the Caliph only reluctantly assigned Zaid ibn Tabit to carry out the task, who reluctantly agreed (Sahih al-Bukhari, vol 6, p. 477). To complete the task he had to search diligently for oral and written sources. There is strong evidence that his copy was not even in wide circulation after it was compiled, but kept by Uthman’s daughter, Hafsa bint Umar. It seems it was the Caliph’s personal version.
Different written versions quickly multiplied over the next 19 years as different followers remembered various aspects of their leader’s instructions that were missing from Zaid ibn Thabit’s’s version. Abdullah ibn Mas’ud’s version was most authoritative in Iraq. Ubayy ibn Ka’b’s was the favourite in Syria with its two extra Surahs. Al Ashari’s version was dominant in Basra and it also had extra Surahs. None was in agreement with the others and there is no evidence that during the rule of Abu Bakr any one version was superior to the others. This eventually led to disputes during a military campaign in Syria that involved troops from Basra and Syria (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, p.477-9). To stop these outbreaks of dissention, the third Caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, ordered all copies to be pulled together under Zaid ibn Thabits supervision and the burning of all competing copies. Thus one version was elevated above the others. This new version then became the sole version allowed to exist.
However, as soon as copies of Zaid ibn Thabit’s Qur’an were dispatched to Damascus, Iraq and Basra, Zaid ibn Thabit suddenly remembered he had omitted Surah 33:23 (as-Suyuti, Al-Itqan fii Ulum al-Qur’an, p.138). After Caliph Uthman’s death there is some evidence that the governor of Kufa, Al Hajjaj, made eleven further minor alterations to the text. It is no wonder that it is at this point that we see the great schism between the Sunnis and Shiites, which was a disagreement with Caliph Uthman about his supposed suppression of ayats in the Qur’an relating to who was the rightful leader of the Muslims.
Pronunciation soon became an issue as well. Arabic was now mixing with other languages and evolving with the Qur’an. So dots, tashkil, were added to Arabic letters to signify vowel sounds and correct auditory emphasis, or nunation. Different styles of readings gradually developed from famous reciters of the Qur’an into ten identifiable schools of Qur’anic recitation. This has led to subtle differences in modern versions, depending on which school of reader they come from. For example, the most common Qur’an used today is the 1924 Egyptian standard edition. It comes from the school of Reader Imam Hafs. It differs slightly from the Qur’an that comes to us from the school of Reader Imam Warsh, which is used across Algeria, Morocco and parts of Tunisia, West Africa and Sudan. These two versions differ in terms of letter placement, vowel placement and the location of the tashkil. There are over 1,300 of these differences and whole books are available to help readers navigate the different versions.
This long and very human process of codifying, editing and transmitting the Qur’an castes great doubt on the claims of divine perfection that both Muhammad (Q 6:34) and Islamic apologists repeatedly make for their scriptures. If the Qur’an is not what it claims to be then the whole Islamic religious superstructure wobbles.
3. ARE THERE MANY ERRORS IN THE QUR’AN?
Now we get to the heart of the matter of divine origin. Where the Qur’an makes any statement that can be checked against an outside, objective measuring standard, such as science, history, morality or logic, then we can make objective judgements as to its claims of divine origin and infallibility. What follows is a quick survey of the many examples of fallibility in the Qur’an based on the measuring standards just mentioned. But remember, to the Muslim apologist, no objective measuring of the Qur’an is permitted. They will go to extreme lengths to shut down any debate on this issue. They fear it greatly. To question is to invite the wrath of Allah, via the instrument of Islamic zeal. As always, absolute certainty is the child of unexamined zeal.
Let’s start with the theory of abrogation, where latter revelations, nasikh, supersede previous revelations (mansukh). Objectivity would suggest Muhammad, was simply changing his mind and conveniently claiming divine authority to do so. Abrogation also suggests the god of Islam, Allah, is inconsistent and self-contradicting, changing his mind on a whim. If his words and decrees are eternal and unchangeable, then why does he change them in the miracle book, the Qur’an? Even the Qur’an itself claims that if it is self-contradictory then it could not be divine (Q 4:82). Complicating the theory of abrogation is the problem of which Surah’s and ayats came first chronologically, as it is very hard to tell. Here are a few examples of the hundreds of contradictions/abrogations in the Qur’an:
- Days of creation changes from six (Q 7:54) to two (Q 41:9-12) then four (Q 41:10)
- Previous prophets were supposedly Muslims, but Muhammad was the first to bow to Allah
- Allah cursed all liars, but Muhammad was allowed to break his own oath
- In one place Pharaoh was killed (Q 17:102-3), but in another he was rescued (Q 10:90-92)
- In one passage Muslims, Christians and Sabeans are saved (Q 2:62), but then in another only Muslims are saved (Q 3:85)
- In one passage Jesus died on the cross and rose again (Q 19:33), but then in another he did not die on the cross (Q 4:157)
- In another passage it says there is no compulsion in religion (Q 2:83) but later this became war and death to infidels (Q 9:5)
This last abrogation comes from Surah 9 and this Surah alone abrogates over 100 previous revelations. So many inconsistencies and changes within just a few decades tell us a great deal about the character of Muhammad and the lies/abrogation’s he told to further his own purposes.
Sayings were lost and manuscripts were in conflict
As mentioned above Muhammad forgot some verses, never codified the Qur’an at all, many memorised verses were lost soon after Muhammad’s death, and four equal and competing versions of the Qur’an circulating some 19 years later which led to major disputes. Competing versions all burnt except for Zaid ibn Thabit’s new and improved account in 650AD. Then he kept remembering things he forgot to include, and was even asked by two of Muhammad’s widows to alter verses (Muwatta Imam Malik, p.64). One Hadith twice states clearly that Caliph Uthman’s motivation was not accuracy but unity (Ibn Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Masahif, p.22). Disunity and war had been the hallmark of Islam from the moment of Muhammad’s death and its continuation could have been the death of the Caliph himself. So it can be said with certainty that what Muhammad dictated is not what we read in today’s Qur’an.
Muhammad misrepresented historical fact on many occasions in his Qur’an. He incorrectly claimed Christians worshipped Mary and Jesus as part of their trinity (Q 5:116). He also claimed that Mary is the sister of Aaron as well as the mother of Jesus (Q 19:27-28). He claimed that Haman (Q 28:38, Q29:39, Q 40: 24) was employed by Pharaoh to build a great tower, thus mixing Genesis with Exodus and Esther. Muhammad believed that the golden calf of Exodus (Q 20:85-87) was made by a Samaritan, but this ethnic group did not exist at the time. The Qur’an has King David making chain mail armour (Q 34:10-11), but this technology was not invented for 1,000 years after David lived.
Regarding the person of Jesus, extra-biblical evidence never records him being called Isa. All objective historical sources agree with the name used in the Christian gospels. No one quite knows where Muhammad got this name. Likewise there is absolutely no historical evidence that Jesus received a special a proto-Qur’anic book called the Injil, The Qur’an also claims he did not die on the cross (Q 4:157). Once again this disagrees with all known secular historical sources such as Celsus, Tacitus, Mara Bar-Serapion and Josephus. There are ten known non-Christian sources of insight into the life of Jesus and they all agree with the New Testament, and disagree with the Qur’an.
Muhammad declares boldly that Christians and Jews corrupted their own scriptures (Q 2:75 Q 2:79) which originally were pure Islamic teaching. Once again there is absolutely NO external evidence to back up the claim and a mountain of evidence to the contrary. We have accurate manuscripts dating to within a hundred years of the originals. These historical fabrications fact tells us Muhammad had very little understanding of what is historically proven to be in the Bible, exposing himself to a grave, but self-serving errors of judgement.
Scientific error abounds in the Qur’an. It claims the sun sets in a spring of murky water (Q 18:86). This idea comes from known folktales of that era. Stars and meteorites are said to be missiles fired at evil spirits who try to eavesdrop on the Qur’an in heaven (Q 67:5, Q 72:6-9). Muhammad claimed mountains were giant tent pegs that stopped the earth from shaking (Q 16:15, Q 21:31). Surah 105 claims birds dropped clay stones on General Abraha’s army, but history records he withdrew because of smallpox. Fishermen are said to have turned into apes because they broke the Jewish Sabbath (Q 2:65-66). The hadiths (Sahih Bukhari 6:60:7) record an event where Muhammad was asked why children look like their father or mother. Muhammad’s reply, which he said came from Gabriel, was that the child resembled the father if he orgasmed first, and the mother if she orgasmed first.
If the Qur’an is a divine miracle it would not contain grammatical errors, but it does. The word “Sabeans” is spelt correctly as Saabi’iina in Surah’s 2:62 and 22:17, but is spelt Saabi’uuna in Surah 5:69. Many more such errors and aberrations can be found in this link.
Use of inaccurate apocryphal writings
By the Third Century after Christ there were literally hundreds of fanciful versions of the Bible and New Testament in circulation around the Roman Empire and beyond. Muhammad obviously used many of them to help him compile his Qur’anic literature. From the Second Century Talmudic writings comes Surah 2:30-38 where we find all angels except Satan worshipping Adam. Surah 21:51-71 has Abraham destroying idols. This fable is borrowed from another Second Century collection of Jewish folktale called The Midrash Rabbath. From the second century fable of Abodah Sarah we find Allah threatening to drop Mt Sinai on the Jews (Q 7:171).
The story of a talking baby Jesus (Q 19:29-33) comes from a Second Century Egyptian tale called The First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ. In fact nearly everything said in the Qur’an about Jesus that is not in the New Testament comes directly from Second Century fables such as the late second century Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which has Jesus being born under a palm tree (Q 19:22-23) and making clay birds come to life (Q 3:49). The story of the prophet known as The Two Horned One (Q 18:82-101) is derived from the Romance of Alexander (the Great), but Alexander was no Muslim. This type of ignorant inaccuracy riddles the Qur’an. Unfortunately, Muhammad equated any fanciful writings about history as valid revelation from Allah for his Qur’an.
Double standards abound in the Qur’an. Why is it that the eternal word of Allah so frequently gives just-so revelation to a single man in Seventh Century Arabia that seems to fit his personal desires and whims? For example, other Muslim men could have only four wives (Q 4:3). However, Allah just happened to reveal that Muhammad could have as many as he wanted (Q 43:50). After Muhammad took a shine to his daughter-in-law, His god suddenly revealed to him that he could have her as another wife even though this violated the most sacred of family bonds in that society (Q 33:37). In ancient Arabia fighting was prohibited during four holy months. However, when some of his men raided a Meccan caravan on the last day of a holy month, Muhammad suddenly received a new revelation justifying the raid (Q 2:217 Q 2:194). Further examples can be found in this link.
According to the Quran, the direction of prayer, Qibla, was canonized towards Mecca for all Muslims around 624 AD (Surah 2:144, 149-50). Yet the Qibla of the first mosque in Kufa, Iraq, constructed in 670 AD, pointed west instead of due south. Likewise, floor plans from two later Umayyad (650-750 AD) mosques in Iraq, demonstrate their Qiblas were oriented too far north. The Wasit mosque is off by 33 degrees, the Baghdad mosque by 30 degrees. The Amr b. al As mosque near Cairo, again pointed too far north and had to be corrected under a later governor. It cannot be that the early Muslims wrongly estimated the direction of Mecca because they were adept at travelling by the stars. There is a serious discrepancy between the Qur’an and modern archaeology.
Justification of evil by Allah
If Allah is the creator of the universe, if Allah is also is the custodian of the Qur’anic tablets in heaven, and if Allah spoke only through Muhammad to give the true revelation of his nature will and the purpose of life itself, then it makes Allah look like a very evil, scheming god (Q 3:54). As you can see below, the Arabic word translated into English as planner in this verse means deceiver. All English translations desperately seek to play down the true meaning of this verse
Many English translations:
And the disbelievers planned, but Allah planned. And Allah is the best of planners.
Correct English transliteration:
And they cheated/deceived and God cheated/deceived, and God (is) the best (of) the cheaters/deceivers.
There is no getting around the fat that the god of the Qur’an is a deceiver and a schemer. Because every word in the Qur’an is a direct copy of perfect templates in heaven! It seems some Muslim translators are excellent plotters and schemers as well. Here is one deliberately deceptive English translation of the verse by Muhammad Asad: And the unbelievers schemed [against Jesus]; but God brought their scheming to nought: for God is above all schemers. Why does he do this? It is because Muslims are permitted by Allah to lie in order to further the cause of Allah (Q 66:2, Sahih Bukhari 84:64-65)
To underscore this fact, the Qur’an goes on to justify gruesome violence on many occasions (Q 2:216, all of Surah 9). It justifies religious killing (Q 2:190-193). It justifies your execution if you leave Islam. It justifies deception and lying (Q 16:106). It justifies the suppression of human rights and slavery (Q 16:75). It demands the economic and legal subjugation of other faiths (Q 9:29). It encourages religious arrogance (Q 3:110) and religious vilification (Q 2:89-2:90) It encourages genocide (Bukhari vol 5, book 58, No 148). It allows for adultery (Q 4:24, Kitab Al-Nikah 711). It condones theft (Q 8:69). It encourages sexual slavery (Q 23:5-6, Q 70:29-30). It allows Muslims to torture people (Q 24:2, Q 22:19-22). It even encourages the murder of any Muslims who turn away (Q 4:89). All of this is the perfect will of the Muslim god. Allah is indeed the best of the deceivers and schemers.
4. WHAT EXACTLY IS JIHAD?
The above section neatly segues into a discussion of Jihad. Pages 397-398 of The Encyclopedia of Islam describes jihad as follows: “Literally, the Arabic word jihad means to strive or struggle (in the path of God); it often refers to religiously sanctioned warfare. The Qur’an advocates jihad to extend God’s rule (Q 2:192, 8:39), promising reward in the afterlife for those who are killed in battle (Q 3:157–158, 169–172) and punishment for those who do not participate (Q 9:81–82, 48:16).” This is a pretty standard definition of jihad. Jihad simply means war for the advancement of Islam, or holy war.
This definition flies in the face of recent attempts by western Islamic apologists, both secular and religious, to redefine jihad as an inner struggle for holiness. The very DNA of Islam is one long crusade for Islamic expansion and global domination via a worldwide caliphate. In this respect the Muslim disdain for the Christian crusades of the Middle Ages is fundamentally hypocritical. Consider the following verses from the Quran itself:
Q 2:190-191 Fight in the cause of Allah those that fight you…slay them wherever you find them. Idolatry is more grievous than bloodshed.
Q 2:216-218 Fighting is obligatory for you, as much as you dislike it. But you may hate a thing although it is good for you…those who believe, have emigrated and fought for the cause of Allah may hope for Allah’s mercy.
This next ayat gives you an insight into the mindset of ISIS…
Q 47:4 So when you meet those who disbelieve [in battle], strike [their] necks until, when you have inflicted slaughter upon them, then secure their bonds, and either [confer] favor afterwards or ransom [them] until the war lays down its burdens. That [is the command]. And if Allah had willed, He could have taken vengeance upon them [Himself], but [He ordered armed struggle] to test some of you by means of others.
The list of such statements extends to over 100. They are chilling in their thirst for bloodshed.
Muhammad even had the audacity to teach that any follower who refused to engage in war was not a true Muslim (Q 9:44-52). He saw it as one of the core tests of loyalty to him and his god.
Therefore, any belief, person or cause that opposes Qur’anic Islam is setting itself up for perpetual war with Islamic armies or people who truly believe the Qur’an. This was true in Muhammad’s lifetime, true in the 1,000 years after his death until the era of European colonial subjugation, and again true today as a more accurate and fundamentalist understanding of the Quran takes hold across the Islamic world.
The hadiths are collections of traditions containing sayings of the prophet Muhammad written many years after his death during the Islamic crusades of the 7th and 8th centuries. They also frequently refer to jihad as a form of holy war. The earliest hadiths refer to jihad straight after explaining the five pillars of Islam so many Islamic jurists call jihad the sixth pillar of Islam. In Sahih al-Bukhari 4.52.220 Muhammad is quoted as saying “I have been made victorious with terror.”
During the era when the hadiths were being collected many laws and rules regarding jihad were laid down by the emerging legal system called Sharia. For example, a jihad could only be called by a Caliph, the supreme leader of the Muslims, though this was often abused by various leaders. Combatants were also forbidden from killing non-combatants, looting their property and disfiguring the dead. Different schools of jurists developed different rules and the concept of jihad continues to evolve to this day. However, some concepts remain consistent. A combatant who dies in a jihad goes straight to heaven (Q 3:157-8). The sword of jihad wipes away all sins!
Within 200 years of Muhammad’s death Muslim armies had penetrated into European Christendom three times in attempts to conquer the Christians, through Spain, Constantinople and then through southern Italy. The fourth attempt, via immigration, is currently in play today.
In an era when ignorant western leaders bend over backwards to accommodate Islam in the name of tolerance, one wonders how much longer they will tolerate the rising tide of blood before they realise they are dealing with a radically intolerant political movement, not a garden variety religion as they are used to in Christianity. It’s a good thing most Muslims do not follow the Qur’an seriously, but more and more do as they experience and ongoing reformation back to the original teachings.
5. THE QUR’AN AND SHARIA LAW
Two hundred years after the death of Muhammad, wars of conquest had created an Islamic empire that spread across North Africa, into Spain, across the entire Middle East and to the edge of India. Over this time hundreds of thousands of unofficial written traditions of the life of Muhammad were circulating, some contained fact, some fiction. From 770AD we see the emergence of the sunnah/hadith literature as Islam’s attempt to sift through these accounts of Muhammad’s life (Sunnah) and sayings (hadith) to better understand Muhammad and therefore how he would want the new empire governed. For Sunni Muslims six collections stood out, and from those six the works of Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim were considered the most accurate. The collections consisted of individual sayings on various aspects of life ascribed to Muhammad. It was the systemising of these sayings by later Islamic jurists that formed the basis of the sharia legal system.
The word sharia simply means path, or path to water, a very strong image for a desert people. It is vital to understand that Islam and Islamic law is the same thing. It is a legal code as much as a religion. There is no separation of mosque and state, or separation of criminal, civil and religious law. All serve to further the purpose of Islam. Sharia obligations, in some degree or another, reach into every corner of a Muslim’s life. That is why Many Muslims in the western world are often unhappy with our legal system and in some cases want sharia law to replace it.
But sharia law is not a simple system. Only a highly trained professional can engage in Islamic jurisprudence and they must follow four steps in order. First, they must give primacy to the Qur’an, then to the actions and sayings of Muhammad as found in the sunnah/hadith literature, then to the prevailing consensus among scholars, and then personal logic. From there a fatwa, or ruling, can be made.
Sounds simple and logical, but it’s not. There is the hugely complicating issue of abrogation, where later passages of the Qur’an override earlier ones. Complicating abrogation still further is the problem of sayings attributed to Muhammad found in the hadith literature that is no longer in the Qur’an, or even worse, some that are different to the Qur’an. So as the empire expanded different fatwas were decreed by different jurists. This led to the development of competing schools of jurisprudence and endless disagreements. One of those schools is so different it is now considered its own branch of Islam, the Shia branch.
Over the first few centuries the various schools competed with one another. People took their legal matters to the sharia court for their area or school of law. However, at no point was that person allowed to read the Qur’an and decide for themselves what correct practice was. Islamic law does not allow for individual thought. It is received equally from legal scholars and religious leaders, as it was from Muhammad. Given the totally confusing and disordered nature of the Qur’an, this quickly made sense as the empire expanded.
Sharia is a codified book of rulings as in European law, or a set of precedents as in common law. To assume Muslims must live a certain way because the Qur’an and Hadiths say so misses the crucial step in the Islamic worldview, the distillation of ideas via the different schools of jurisprudence and the distillation of sharia through powerful religious governing authorities. It is imperial in nature, similar to the way the Catholic Church functioned when it ruled Europe.
So what are some of the features of sharia law? Sharia combines compulsory religious instructions with military, criminal and civil laws for the Muslim faith. Topics as wide ranging as hygiene, diet, theology, prayer, charity, sexuality, the economy, marriage, crime, military actions and even dress codes are all covered. Human behaviour is divided into that which is obligatory, recommended, neutral, discouraged or forbidden. Oral testimony is valued above written evidence, and forensics is not permitted as evidence. The defence and accused represent themselves, there are no lawyers. A single judge decides the verdict and sentence and there is no jury or appeal. Neither is cross examination of witnesses allowed. Because there is no codification of the legal system, no precedent is set if a verdict is new, so later judgements can be inconsistent with former ones. Oaths are often demanded by a judge after evidence has been heard, and to lie under oath to a Judge carries grave consequences for the defendant. A person is usually considered guilty until innocence proved, and it is hard to prove innocence. A person can also be held without trial indefinitely. If guilt is proved punishments are often physical and include lashings, decapitation, stoning and the removal of hands.
Only eight or so of the fifty majority Muslim countries in the world follow full sharia law. Most have incorporated some European legal concepts from their colonial past and would consider full sharia law to be highly draconian. Core Middle Eastern countries expect personal and religious aspects of sharia to be obeyed by their Muslim subjects, while those countries on the periphery of Islam have much more liberal views. Views on sharia law follow a similar continuum. It is ironic that many Muslims in the west are calling for sharia law, while many governments in Muslim majority countries do not want it. Modern radicals calling for full sharia law are an equal threat to them as to the west.
Most westerners do not have any understanding of the Qur’an or the history of Islam. It is hoped this essay has filled in the gaps in your understanding of the Qur’an. In another essay, called The Rise and Fall of Islam, I have explained how the strict, intolerant, violent and dictatorial message and worldview of the Qur’an spread across the world, and where it is headed to in the future. This century will be a major chapter in an ongoing 1,400 year conflict between Islam and the Judeo-Christian worldviews. But significant cracks are beginning to appear inside Islam for the first time. The Twenty Second Century will see these cracks widen into a canyon.