Monday, July 03, 2017

Literal Islam

Sometime in early 1970s I watched the Shakespeare play Richard III in a theatre in his home town of
Stratford upon Avon. At the very opening, a character walked on the stage and facing the audience said, "I have chosen to be the villain." I was shocked. It was beyond my comprehension that someone would
voluntarily choose to be a villain. Now I know better.

Urdu translations of the Holy Quran I read in my childhood had marginal notes telling about the
circumstances in which verses were revealed or the incidents to which they referred. It created Awareness of Circumstantial implications of the Quranic injunctions. It was understood that you cannot pick a line from the Quran in isolation and assume it to be a universal statement. If you quote the Quran you should quote the whole passage with the background and explanations. The verse "kill in the path of Allah" has been used by opponents of Islam to propagate that Islam preaches violence and even some misguided Muslims believe that killing the opponents of Islam leads to the path of divine glory. That is a totally wrong impression and a sure way to lose the path of Allah.

The verse was revealed in a situation when Muslims, led by Prophet Muhammad, were travelling towards Makkah to perform a pilgrimage and were stopped by the infidels. It should be noted that the companions of the Prophet were restrained from violence and bloodshed unless allowed by him after receiving a divine revelation. As it happened on that occasion, nobody got killed as a peace formula was found.  In fact, even today all Muslims are restrained from violence and bloodshed unless faced with a situation similar to one for which the exception was made by the Prophet under divine guidance.

Unfortunately many translations of the Holy Quran, especially those in English now in circulation give the literal meaning of the verses without the necessary explanation leaving the reader to draw his own conclusions. Even worse is the case of Islamic madrassas and other organizations established mainly for financial considerations teach their students Arabic language so that they can understand what the Quran says literally without knowing the background and the historical significance of the texts. Not surprisingly, a lot of people are being led astray.

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