11 September, 2001, or 9/11 as it is known, ended the old civilisational wars over land and economic resources and ushered in the age of wars based on religious ideology. From Salman Rushdie’s challenge to Islamic tradition by questioning established religious and political authority to caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and now the recent PIL by chairman Shia Waqaf Board, Waseem Rizvi, seeking removal of 26 Quranic verses, are some of the flashpoints which represent socially reproduced prejudices and aversion to Islam and Muslims.
There is no need to get into debate about the transcendence and inalterability of the Quran but this needs to be seen in the wider political context. Rizvi’s petition tries to argue that these verses were interpolated into the Quran by the first three caliphs of Islam and that they encourage violence and terror. The attempt to blame the caliphs for the so-called violent verses and thus linking this to the genesis of modern-day terrorism is a brazen attempt at provoking sectarianism.
IMMUTABLITY OF QURAN
The Quran is perhaps the only sacred scripture that has been targeted through a persistent campaign to present it as a product of human mind and Islam as a barbaric desert cult. Traditionally, how can we be sure that the Quran we have today is the same Quran that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) taught to his companions more than 14 hundred years ago. This question is central to the legitimacy of the religion of Islam. And the answer we need to know is how Quran was given to the Prophet, preserved by his companions, and distributed along the Muslim world. This is the story of language, history and the commitment of the entire civilisation to preserving the words of God. According to Muslim understanding, the Quran was written and reliably preserved during Prophet Muhammad’s (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) lifetime, while its compilation into a book called “MUSHAF” which means written verses was done during the caliphate of Abu Bakr (RA) and it was copied during the caliphate of Uthman (RA). In the Quran it is God himself who has taken the responsibility of preserving the Book in its absolute purity.
“Verily We! It is We Who have revealed the Admonition, and We are its Guardians.” (15:9)
Strikingly, this prophecy has been confirmed by history as well. Ever since its first revelation to the holy prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam), the Quran has remained free from all alterations, accretions and deletions. Even modern critics agree that the copies current today are almost exact replicas of the original mother-text as compiled by Zayd, and that, on the whole, the text of the Quran today is as Muhammad produced it. It is important to remember that since the Quran had been revealed in seven dialects of the Arabic language of the time and Uthman (RA) with proper consultations and deliberations with companions selected the Quraysh dialect, as the prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) belonged to the Quraysh. From the new copy, some official copies were written and sent to different places such as Bahrain, Damascus, Basra, Kufa, Yemen and Mecca, accompanied by Qari.
There is no difference between the Mushafs recited around the world today since they were all copied from the original copy. Since then history is witness that countless Muslims have recited and memorised the Quran and even the prominent scholars of the west, who had no sympathetic approach towards Quran, were compelled to willy-nilly admit that “Quran was the most widely read book in existence.” The Quran is guarded on all sides. No one can get the better out of it by attacking it from before or behind it, openly or secretly, or in any way whatever. Quran testifies it as: “No falsehood can approach it from before or behind it: It is sent down by One Full of Wisdom, Worthy of all Praise.” (41:42).
It is out of the question that the Quran be distorted or any part of it be removed or any non Quranic text included in it. The Quran has outrightly denied any such possibility and even the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) can’t in any way change the message and word of God. The Quran itself is proof of this reality.
“And if the messenger were to invent any saying in our name, we should certainly seize him by his right hand. And we should certainly then cut off the artery of his heart. Nor could any of you wthhold him (from our wrath).” (69:44-47).
Chronologically, the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) in parts over a period of 23 years. So the verses are time and place-specific. Every chapter in the Quran mentions the location where the verse was sent to the Prophet (SAW). Also, the Quran is not compiled in a linear format. The same situation has been touched upon in an earlier chapter and part of it is anecdotally spoken about in a chapter much later because the Holy Quran isn’t a book of stories, it’s a book of lessons and morals. Remarkably, for centuries Muslim scholars have used various hermeneutical and exegetical methods to explain verses that are not immediately easy to understand. Quran doesn’t tell people to fight any more than Gita, Bible and Torah. Like all these sacred texts, Quran too deals with questions of just war and violence. All of these verses can only be understood once someone has a grip on the language, history of the revelation, context and even grammer of the language. These can’t always be viewed through a black and white prism nor are they always fixed in stone apart from certain foundational principles.
What is forbidden in a certain situation can become morally obligatory in another. Among several verses of chapter 2 of Quran which are often used to brand Islam as a violent religion, I may, in my rebuttal, mention one verse from the same chapter where Prophet is asked if anyone among unbelievers seeks protection to hear the Quran, the Prophet says, “Give him protection and escort him to a secure position.”
The modern-day version of the crusade is back. For the past few years the world has been fixated on defaming Islam and its sacred scriptures out of no reason and is busy debating how the terrorism ushered by Islamic tenets is a menace to society. We refuse to be apologetic or responsible about it anymore. How a madman interprets the Quran does not make either the Muslim community as a whole or the religion we follow responsible for the act. If an obsessive lover kills for the “sake of love”, you don’t brand love to be in “crisis”, even though people have been killing in the name of love for centuries. Surely, the true followers will speak up against anyone painting their religion as violent but ironically only Muslims are picked on and their beliefs targeted. We refuse to be apologetic about our religion anymore. We will protest peacefully and democratically against any such act that further spreads Islamophobia and we unequivocally denounce this twisted version of freedom of speech where a deliberate attempt is made to insult the prophet and sacred scriptures.
—The writer is a senior crrespondent. [email protected]