Contradictions in the Qur’an- 5
It has been pointed out that the Qur’an suffers from no less than 11 contradictions. We have dealt with nine of them in previous issues. In this issue we deal with the last two of the supposed contradictions.
Contradiction No. 10
UNBELIEVERS: To be persecuted or forgiven?
Verses 23:117 and 98:6 say that unbelievers will not prosper and are the worst of creatures!. Verse 9:29 also asks believers to fight those who do not believe in Allah, the Last Day, His rules and His religion of truth. But verse 45:14 says otherwise. Read also 16:128.
“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth …..”
“Tell those who believe, to forgive those who do not hope for the Days of Allah; It is for Him to recompense (for good or evil) each people according to what they have earned”
Apologists can argue that verse 9:29 was revealed in the context of war and 45:14 perhaps towards the end of hostilities. The fact is that the Quran does not specify what verses are applicable in the context of war and what is to be followed during other occasions. And also what rulings were for the past, what are for the present and what are for the future! God has unfortunately left everything to our discretion. Ironically, Apologists claim that the Quran contains solutions for the problems of the Past, Present and Future. There is little doubt that their claim is more emotional than factual.
Answer to the Contradiction No. 10
The antagonist guesses “that verse 9:29 was revealed in the context of war and 45:14 perhaps towards the end of hostilities,” but the case is just the reverse.
Verse 45:14 was revealed at the end of the Makkan mission of Prophet Muhammad, just before migration and beginning of hostilities. These were to be sort of the last words of admonition and farewell before the Prophet would abandon his tribe to the fate of Time and move on to Madinah. He had already received revelations at Makkah to the effect that he might have to – after he had left the town – take up arms as the Makkans wouldn’t tolerate his presence and much-feared influence anywhere in Arabia.
On the other hand 9:29 was not revealed in the context of war, but rather, at the end of the Prophet’s hostilities with the Arabs. It was at the end because in the 9th year after Hijrah (when these verses were revealed), the Prophet’s mission itself was coming to an end. His wars with the Arabs had ended and Islam had overcome their resistance. His last days were spent receiving Arab delegations streaming into Madinah (some 96 of them), every few other days, declaring their submission to Islam.
Who understood the Qur’an better than the Prophet and his Companions? They knew that verse 9:29 was actually addressing not the Prophet but the believers. They were required to take up arms against the enemies outside the Arab Peninsula: the Ahl al-Kitab; because, if they did not, they would attack, and the Muslims would have the disadvantages of a defender. They were commanded to subdue them, and plant Islam in the heart of their stronghold. It is because nothing was left in them of the religion of Jesus Christ but what they had invented: the cross representing the Trinity. Note the collective noun used in the verse: “You all should fight..”
Who but the Prophet and his Companions understood the Qur’an better? They understood very well the implications of verse 45:14: “Say to those who have believed to forgive those who have no hope in the Days of Allah, that He may recompense a people for what they were doing.” Following this decade-old instruction, when the Prophet and his followers entered Makkah triumphant, the Prophet on his part forgave them in the profound peace overture he made at entry: “Go, you are all free.” On their part, his Companions also forgave the Makkans, and left for Madinah 3 weeks later, as empty handed as they were when they had escaped from them ten years ago. They laid no claim on the houses they had left, the businesses, the properties, the cattle, and orchards spread here and there – which had been confiscated by the Makkans. They remembered Allah’s words, revealed 10 years ago, and forgave all, forgot all, placing their hope in the second half of the verse: “that He may recompense a people for what they were doing.”
Had they understood the Qur’an as poorly as the present-day antagonist understands, they would not have left their properties and wealth in the hands of the confiscators, who were not even Muslims, and gone back to Madinah as hungry as they had arrived: 10,000 of them. It would not have been for the Companions the most pleasant thing to do, noting that the Makkans remained pagans, even as they – the immigrants – departed with their wealth of every denomination in Pagan hands! Does the antagonist understand now when we say he understands nothing of the Qur’an?
That verse 45:14 is Makkan, is written on its face; apart from the statement at the head of the Surah in which it occurs, which states, “A Makkan Revelation.” That apart, the content of the Surah is also speaking, though in undertones, of its early period of revelation. But antagonism blinds the eye: “It is not the eyes that go blind, but it is the hearts in the breasts that go blind” (22:46), and shuts the door to guidance.
The words of the antagonist, “God has unfortunately left everything to our discretion” is unfortunate for the human race. He wants more details. (Perhaps he wants equivalent of the Torah which we are told is in 50,000 pages). But such a desire is unfortunate because it is a Christian priestly evaluation of the humans who – according to the evaluation – are: sinners from the beginning; condemned as a species, unworthy of trust, unreliable for reasoning power, and helplessly waiting for a Savior to lift them off the curse of the first Guilt. In this priestly system of thought, every individual, of every race, of all times, is judged before trial – and condemned.
In contrast, the Qur’an trusts the human beings. It implies this in several places. The objection then of the antagonist that “God has unfortunately left everything to our discretion” echoes Christian sentiments about the human beings. It is not at all unfortunate – but rather an honor – that Allah has trusted us, given us a comprehensive, little work. A 30-volume work would not have been the best of gift to mankind. Allah left us to work out the details in the light of its guidance, our reason, armed with our intellect and our sincerity. The details that the antagonist is demanding, speak of distrust in man. It is as if to say, “If you did not give us the details O God, mankind will twist Your message.” He may have certain class of men in his mind. But all are not alike.
The words of the antagonist: “The fact is that the Quran does not specify what verses are applicable in the context of war and what is to be followed during other occasions. And also what rulings were for the past, what are for the present and what are for the future,” are true. God has done what the antagonist blames God for, because God gave us the reasoning power, and, trusting our honesty, left us to do our own home work.
The antagonist also says, “Apologists claim that the Quran contains solutions for the problems of the Past, Present and Future.” Yes it does, provided men do not distrust their own intellectual capabilities. If one of them does not have the ability to look for guidance in the Qur’an, he should seek help from the specialists, instead of arguing against the Qur’an by suggesting what more the Qur’an should have contained, or asking, why it placed trust in the reasoning power of the humankind, or why it is not an “Idiot’s Guide to Islam?”
Contradiction No. 11
God’s advice to Muhammed on propagating Islam
We have seen apologists quoting verses from the Quran in support of their claim that the Quran does not recommend forceful conversions. The verse they often quote is 2:256 which says “There is no compulsion in religion”. There are also many verses in the Quran which suggest otherwise and these have already appeared on web pages. Here we see two contradicting directives from God on conveying Allah’s religion to the people:
“So if they dispute thee, say: “I have submitted my whole self to Allah and so have those who follow me”….. “Do you (also) submit yourselves? If they do, they are in right guidance. But if they turn back, thy duty is to convey the message. And in Allah’s sight are (all) His servants”
“Say to the Unbelievers, if (now) they desist (from disbelief), their past would be forgiven; but if they persist, the punishment of those before them is already (a matter of warning to them). And fight them on until there is no more persecution and the religion becomes Allah’s in its entirety… “
Is verse 8:38-39 an abrogation of verse 3:20? If that is the case, can we recommend the directives in verse 8:38-39 as the standard method to be followed by all Muslims? Or is the latter verse given during the context of war? To me, these verses reflect the changing moods of the prophet in response to the public reaction he received. We see a content & tolerant messenger in verse 3:20 and a contempt and aggressive messenger in verse 8:38-39!
Answer to contradiction No. 11
As regards forceful conversion, there has never been any in Islamic history. It has been the other way round. When the first Muslim Empire – the Umayyad Dynasty – imposed a special tax on New Muslims because the officials thought the non-Muslims were converting in droves to escape Jizyah; it was pointed out by the scholars that Islam had not arrived to collect taxes.
The antagonist insists that common sense should not be lost sight of. But what he states in this regard makes no sense at all. Is it forced conversion that is leading thousands to embrace Islam in the West in our times? Is it not forced conversion to Western culture which is demanding that Muslim women confirm to its norms by shedding the veil or leave the country? Is it not the moral power of Islam which is behind the conversions in Europe and which leads to the antagonists predicting Muslim governments in France, Germany, Britain, Holland, and several other countries within a few generations? Force never works, was never ordered, never happened, and is not going to happen any time in future. If force could work, there should have been no Jew today after what they have had to go through at the hands of the Christians during the past 2000 years. It is time now for the antagonists to come up with newer ideas to combat the Qur’anic influence with more intelligent arguments. The old arguments are failing them.
The two passages quoted above are dealing with two aspects: the first is guiding the believers, while the second is informing the unbelievers of the dangers they expose themselves to if they decide to confront this Message. They are being told that two religions will not be tolerated in the Arabian Peninsula.
The first passage (3:20) stresses on the fact that everyone needs to correct himself, the Caller as well as the Called. Before the Call begins the Caller has to submit himself to the Will of God. It should not be what others have been doing: if somebody takes a shirt from them, they take away his estate from him while they preach just the opposite, “If someone takes away a shirt from you, give away your coat to him.” The Qur’an demands from the Caller, greater submission to God than the kind of submission the Caller demands from those Called.
As regards the next passage (8:38-39), there is no difference in opinion among the scholars of Islam that it was revealed in reference to the Pagans of Arabian Peninsula. They had two choices, either live in this part of the world or start packing their idols along with their luggage. If they chose to live on, the condition was that they lived without their idols. If they refused, they could kill the Muslims.
When the idol-lovers were given the choice, they were in great majority. So, it was more than a fair deal. They could fight and finish off the Muslims for good. When a poorly equipped minority challenges a well-equipped majority, then, it is not forcing the majority to bend to its will but rather, suggesting that they wipe them out. If those of Red Indian origin give the rest of the Americans similar choice, saying that they either embrace their ancient religion or leave America, we cannot say that they are forcing their religion upon the Americans, but rather, they are inviting their own extinction. When the Qur’an announced that either the pagans embrace Islam or leave the country, the Muslims were in a sort of hopeless minority, perhaps 1:10. So, in truth they were saying, “Come and massacre us.”
Sword? What sword?
Why are the unconcerned people of today angry now, after a millennium and a half, that the Arab pagans with 10:1 majority did not win against the Prophet? Why are the Pagans of today angry that after the pagan Arabs lost against the Prophet, they promptly threw away their idols in such a whole-hearted manner as to never pick them up again? Why are the antagonists protesting on behalf of the Arabs? Is it not a matter of indignity on the part of the antagonists that when they protest on behalf of the Arabs, to express sympathy for their supposedly historical forced conversion, the Arabs look at them as an inferior class of stupid people?
I am yet to see a scripture without any apparent internal/external contradiction in it. In general, the bigger the size of the Book, greater the number of contradictions. Particularly when the texts are a compilation of ‘revelations’ attributed to many seers or prophets.
If it disappoints you that all scriptures suffer contradictions of the sort even a child will recognize, then, you do not win the right to transfer your anger and despair to the Qur’an which suffers no such unhealthy condition.
We are living in a pluralistic environment and our effort must to understand the sublime teachings of all religious texts. Those who sincerely wish to investigate the Truth should do it without any bias and prejudice. Emotion should not take an upper hand at the expense of common sense!
Regretfully, these are high sounding words devoid of any meaning yet so commonly used that any journalist will repeat them in his dream when his reasoning power is most absent and emotions most active. As for sublime teachings, there is, as you will testify, no shortage of literature claiming this status. It will take a lifetime for cursory evaluation of a few. Therefore, we recommend someone searching for the right one to begin by first asking the question, ‘Does God exist?’ Then he goes on to ask, ‘Did He truly address mankind?’ If he gets yes answers to the above questions, and is convinced, he may next ask, ‘Did God really send the Qur’an?’ Next, with the answer in affirmative, he may ask the final question, ‘Is this the Qur’an the same as what Prophet Muhammad dictated?’ Once he gets an answer in positive, he will also learn that this literature is the real sublime thing. Let him, all along, take no one else’s opinion. Let him make his own research, his own judgment. He may, if he so wishes take the longer route and start with other literatures: Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Confucius, Inca’s, Jain, Greek Pantheon, Zoroastrian, Taoism, Parsee, Mormon, Baha’i, Magi, et al. (giving each a study due to it) and take up the Qur’an only in the end. But whatever religious literature he takes up, he must necessarily get ‘yes’ answers to the two fundamental questions at the start and then proceed replacing the Qur’an with any other holy literature at the third stage.
If we had any doubt about the Qur’an, we would not have included it in the list. At the fourth stage he may ask, “Is this the literature (name the literature here) the same as it was revealed to the first person.”
Coming to identifying the sublime, we might take a single example to demonstrate that what one man thinks as sublime, another thinks as irrational. Take for instance the first verse of Dhammapada. We have chosen Dhammapada (the Buddhist Literature, despite our respect for it) because you seem to be fond of it. It says,
1. All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage.
Some people might say that the above is a sublime statement. But when we subject it to the test of reason, we find ourselves unable to second the opinion. Firstly, all that we are is not the result of what we have thought. We have all been thinking of some beautiful things all the time, trying to possess them: a good position, a status, a living standard, a good character, a popular personality, some charitable works for the poor, and so on, and – beyond mere thoughts and nightly dreams – have been striving hard for them, but have failed to obtain any, let alone all of them. We could not even be, in our lives, what we have been thinking of throughout our days and nights: a good, if not a noble person. So, as against the above quote, which sounds nice to hear, ‘We are not the result of what have thought.’
Secondly, the statement “If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him ..” is not quite correct either. To explain, (if any explanation is required), after a man has raped a woman, pain does not follow him. It follows the victim, who, as against the above quote, “never thought of it.” It is the raped person who is followed by not one but several tortures: physical, psychological, moral and even intellectual. To her, life is unworthy thereafter. A single rape tears her away from herself. She has a molested, adulterated body, but a pure mind which hates its body. It is simply terrible. Many commit suicide.
On the other hand, pleasure follows the rapist like the wheel follows the oxen’s foot. He is well pleased with his performance; so much so, that if he is not prevented by the law, he will attempt it again, and again. Since pain never follows him, even as he repeats, he keeps on thinking of more rape. He rapes women, then children, then other men. It is because of the pleasure (and not pain) that follows illicit sex, that millions of women are raped in the West. Apart from rape, there is coerced sex, and a variety of sexual favors, which a woman has to show, if she wishes to keep her job no matter how much she hates even to think of allowing her body used. If pain followed rape, like death follow poison, so many millions would not go after it.
A Muslim’s judgment of the sublime is rational. We check for authenticity of a literature. If it is human, then, we are also human, we are all bound to err. We subject it to a long term of contemplation, testing it from several angles to generate a rational opinion about it. If it is judged well, we accept it for what it is, but with reservation, always checking it against latest knowledge whether it retains its position in the light of latest research. Anytime it proves otherwise, we drop it.
This is with human words. But if we discover through the exercise of reason, and that alone, that a statement is truly from God, then every line of it is sublime. We use our reason thereonward not to check on it acceptability, but to evaluate its worth in the light of reason and logic. We keep on subjecting it to prolonged term of contemplation, in the light of newest knowledge, to re-evaluate its worth, and to make the most of it.
Another quote from Dhammapada
“Those who take error for truth, and the truth for error, will never attain the supreme goal, for they are led astray by vain desires and false views” (Dhammapada, 11).
Note: Readers should not get carried away by the fact that I have quoted verses from Buddhist scripture Dhammapada. I don’t mind quoting verses from any scripture as long as they meet these two criteria: (i) If its message is sensible and is of great value to the present and (ii) if it does not contradict another verse of the same Book.
Presented by Dr. N.V.K. Ashraf
As regards the quote from Dhammapada another translation, and one done by no other than Max Muller, is differently worded. The above seems to be a twisted version of the original which is as follows:
11. They who imagine truth in untruth, and see untruth in truth, never arrive at truth, but follow vain desires.
One can see how the word “supreme” has been added to give it a touch of sublime. Indeed the word “supreme” does not occur once anywhere in the entire Dhammapada as translated by Max Muller.
Further, the antagonist’s quote says that they are “led astray by vain desires, and false views.” Whereas, Max Muller’s translation says, simply, “they follow vain desires.” The addition of the words “false views” is meant to lead to false image of the quote, and of Dhammapada itself.
We respect Dhammapada for what it is: a human production. And human productions are likely to err.
We do not agree with the meaning of this quote either. But, we shall not go into that. After all, refutation of Dhammapada is not our immediate task.
Further, as in this case, Dhammapada is not to be blamed. Somewhere on the lines, its words have been twisted; which is another reason why we trust the Qur’an. Its words cannot be twisted.