Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Islamophobia is a Misnomer - a few Rebuttals

In my last post (click), I had quoted translations of a few verses from the Quran. A tweeter - Mr. Kashif Shahzada (click) who apparently is quite knowledgeable of the scripture had pointed out a few inconsistencies in its precepts across different chapters and a few within them and that individual verses must not be cherry-picked, but should be interpreted in context of what is conveyed in verses elsewhere. The significance of this is that, two of the (untoward) conclusions one might draw on reading the verses I had quoted were contradicted by other verses elsewhere in the Quran. In what follows, I quote the said verses, and also the contradictory verses from the Quran and Mr. Kashif's explanation/rebuttal, which I will try to paraphrase as faithfully as possible.

1. (From Chapter 3)
YUSUFALI: Let not the believers Take for friends or helpers Unbelievers rather than believers: if any do that, in nothing will there be help from Allah: except by way of precaution, that ye may Guard yourselves from them. But Allah cautions you (To remember) Himself; for the final goal is to Allah.
PICKTHAL: Let not the believers take disbelievers for their friends in preference to believers. Whoso doeth that hath no connection with Allah unless (it be) that ye but guard yourselves against them, taking (as it were) security. Allah biddeth you beware (only) of Himself. Unto Allah is the journeying.
SHAKIR: Let not the believers take the unbelievers for friends rather than believers; and whoever does this, he shall have nothing of (the guardianship of) Allah, but you should guard yourselves against them, guarding carefully; and Allah makes you cautious of (retribution from) Himself; and to Allah is the eventual coming. [Verify: Sura 3:28]

This might make one think that Muslims are forbidden from helping or showing kindness to "Unbelievers". Mr. Kashif had pointed out this instruction applies only to those who are hostile towards and first attack the believers of Allah. In support he had referred me to the following two verses:

1.a (From Chapter 60)
YUSUFALI: O ye who believe! Take not my enemies and yours as friends (or protectors),- offering them (your) love, even though they have rejected the Truth that has come to you, and have (on the contrary) driven out the Prophet and yourselves (from your homes), (simply) because ye believe in Allah your Lord! If ye have come out to strive in My Way and to seek My Good Pleasure, (take them not as friends), holding secret converse of love (and friendship) with them: for I know full well all that ye conceal and all that ye reveal. And any of you that does this has strayed from the Straight Path.
PICKTHAL: O ye who believe! Choose not My enemy and your enemy for allies. Do ye give them friendship when they disbelieve in that truth which hath come unto you, driving out the messenger and you because ye believe in Allah, your Lord? If ye have come forth to strive in My way and seeking My good pleasure, (show them not friendship). Do ye show friendship unto them in secret, when I am Best Aware of what ye hide and what ye proclaim? And whosoever doeth it among you, he verily hath strayed from the right way.
SHAKIR: O you who believe! do not take My enemy and your enemy for friends: would you offer them love while they deny what has come to you of the truth, driving out the Messenger and yourselves because you believe in Allah, your Lord? If you go forth struggling hard in My path and seeking My pleasure, would you manifest love to them? And I know what you conceal and what you manifest; and whoever of you does this, he indeed has gone astray from the straight path. [Verify: Sura 60:1]

1.b (From Chapter 60)
YUSUFALI: Allah only forbids you, with regard to those who fight you for (your) Faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support (others) in driving you out, from turning to them (for friendship and protection). It is such as turn to them (in these circumstances), that do wrong.
PICKTHAL: Allah forbiddeth you only those who warred against you on account of religion and have driven you out from your homes and helped to drive you out, that ye make friends of them. Whosoever maketh friends of them - (All) such are wrong-doers.
SHAKIR: Allah only forbids you respecting those who made war upon you on account of (your) religion, and drove you forth from your homes and backed up (others) in your expulsion, that you make friends with them, and whoever makes friends with them, these are the unjust. [Verify: Sura 60:9]

2. (From Chapter 9)
YUSUFALI: But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
PICKTHAL: Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
SHAKIR: So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. [Verify: Sura 9:5]

This might make one believe that Muslims are supposed to kill idolators as soon as the time-period of the pact (the Pagans/idolators are supposed to make with Muslims at/near a Mosque to live in peace) ends. Mr. Kashif here, buttressing with the following sura, pointed out that again this instruction applied only to those Unbelievers who had taken the initiative to assault believers of Allah:

2.a (From Chapter 9)
YUSUFALI: Will ye not fight people who violated their oaths, plotted to expel the Messenger, and took the aggressive by being the first (to assault) you? Do ye fear them? Nay, it is Allah Whom ye should more justly fear, if ye believe!
PICKTHAL: Will ye not fight a folk who broke their solemn pledges, and purposed to drive out the messenger and did attack you first? What! Fear ye them? Now Allah hath more right that ye should fear Him, if ye are believers
SHAKIR: What! will you not fight a people who broke their oaths and aimed at the expulsion of the Messenger, and they attacked you first; do you fear them? But Allah is most deserving that you should fear Him, if you are believers. [Verify: Sura 9:13]

My points that I had made in the previous post, I believe, prevail. While, I can get more into technicalities, that is uncalled for. To make a simple point, what is the logic behind mentioning the precondition of hostility and aggression as subclause for not befriending "Unbelievers" in chapter 60, which is far removed from chapter 3? Also, if verse 9:5 calls for something as serious as killing off of idolators despite having had a pact with them as soon as its time period ends, would it not be pragmatic to forcefully mention then and there the caveat that those unbelievers have to be hostile and aggressive?

I rest my case here.

Disclaimer: Mr. Kashif had been patient and civil in his debate - something that I appreciate, nor did he insist or mention that I issue the clarifications/rebuttals that I did above.


  1. ketan under what circumstances will you stop "following" India.
    for eg, the IPKF committed lots of atrocities on the sri lankan tamils. can i say i can allow an army get away with it. so i will stop being an Indian.

    there are many who stay in the system to change the system.

  2. WDM,

    The point (a similar one, which I'd made in previous post also) is very simple - I cannot unfollow India as it is a geographical area, unlike an ideology that can be discarded (remember, I used to be a theist). But precisely because of the kind of atrocities you mentioned, and so many innumerable deficiencies of India & Indians alike:

    1. I do not worship India.

    2. I do not consider India holy & divine.

    3. I do not consider India perfect.

    4. I do not consider the Constitution of India (India's 'scripture', if you may) and the actions of the Indian state & Indians above rational questioning or irreverant criticism.

    5. If in my opinion, India/Indians do something wrong, I'll not go into denial & offer convoluted explanations. I'll acknowledge that what was done was wrong. But I'll not own it up as my own mistake, unless as & until what was done had my personal sanction.

    And in case of religion, what is the meaning of 'staying within' the system? If a Parsi person points out that female feticide & killing of 'astray' couples that Hindus indulge in because of (somewhat sanctioned by religion) traditions - is wrong - shall I expect the person to first convert to Hinduism before leveling such criticism, as otherwise the said Parsi would be 'outside' the system?

    But on a practical level, I understand the emotional challenges as well as social hostility that people face in denouncing & disowning their own religion that they'd have got accustomed to right since birth. That is a valid concern [which you somehow never articulated :) ].

    Thanks for commenting, but I believe, going by the point you made, it would have been more relevant to the original post itself. :)

  3. And one more important thing WDM, if Indian constitution would bad mouth, provoke against & ask to be killed all those who are "Unbelievers" of India (non-Indians), and if such unbelievers develop fear of India and also hatred & contempt - I would never label it as 'Indiphobia', for such feelings would be natural & quite rational to harbor.

  4. Ketan,

    Agree with WiseDonkey on her comments on these last 2 posts. Some quotes may have been picked out of their immediate contexts to present a particular view of a religion. Unfortunately I dont have any familiarity with this faith or its texts, (I hardly know my own) but when it comes to faith and scripture:

    - I think almost all scripture has the kind of stuff about persecuting unbelievers or fighting them or doing nasty things to them, especially if they are "attacking" said faith.

    - most ppl pick and choose and follow the "good" parts of their faith / scripture and ignore the "bad" parts. I believe you have touched upon this also. Thus in a sense all of us religious folk are "bad" (hindu/muslim/ whatever) in that we dont follow scripture to the letter.

    - i am reminded of a joke forward that replied to Dr.Laura Schlesinger (I think) who quoted Leviticus to say homosexuality is sinful. The joke forward quoted other sections of that scripture and asked followers to sell their daughters to slavery, whip their kids, make war on their neighbours etc.

    - if you seriously wish to debate these matters, you could try IndianMuslims.in This is a very good site. You'd want to cultivate some interest and respect for your views though before plunging into any confrontational argument.

    The site is run by Mohib Ahmad and some others including a Kashif, I dont know if he is the same person that you interacted with.


  5. Ketan, its been a long time since I commented on your blog. About this topic..it may be useful to understand the history and timeline behind the verse. The Koran or the hadiths were not written in one day and the circumstances under which each verse were written may have been different from the other.

    As far as i know the peaceful verses in the Koran were written earlier, when Islam was still in a nascent stage and when it was necessary to keep a safe profile lest they be exterminated by the powerful, but the more violent verse were written when Islam was a powerful force.

    nice post as always..

  6. Jai,

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

    I could not understand what exactly were you agreeing with in Wise Donkey's comments. She has not made the point about quoting of scriptures out of context. But even then, I feel, I have done enough justice to the individual verses to provide the text that follows as well as precedes the most objectionable verses. If some other verse contradicts anything given in the previous post, then it qualifies as a self-contradiction, and not as context for some remote verses. If you write any kind of 'instruction manual', you will make sure that if any significant related info is provided elsewhere, you would definitely mention it then and there, rather than expecting the reader to find it out for himself/herself. This need would become more acute, IMHO, if the instructions relate to something as irreversible as who to kill, when, and in what manner.

    Anyway dealing with points you made sequentially:

    1. "...almost all scripture has the kind of stuff about persecuting unbelievers or fighting them or doing nasty things to them, especially if they are "attacking" said faith."

    First, as you must anyway realize, just because all texts have such stuff does not make it alright to have that stuff. Much worse, to consider such stuff, 'divine', 'holy' and 'unquestionable' (my biggest contention and point of discomfiture). Also, what is construed as "attack" on faith gives sufficient leeway to persecute just about anyone.

    2. "most ppl pick and choose and follow the "good" parts of their faith / scripture and ignore the "bad" parts. I believe you have touched upon this also. Thus in a sense all of us religious folk are "bad" (hindu/muslim/ whatever) in that we dont follow scripture to the letter."

    Yes, that is true. You might want to read this (click) very interesting blog post by a professor of philosophy, who explains very well the psychology behind such selective reading. Moreover, he quotes a study that has brain imaging as a supporting evidence (making the whole argument significantly empirical). And no, you 'misread' one of the things: I would never consider "bad" those who use their discretion to reject unsavory things in their respective religions, rather I would be grateful to them! It's just that I would consider them faux false followers, which in context of ethics and morality is a very good thing! :)

    3. The joke example - I hope more people can take such humor, and more important think honestly about the implications....

  7. ...4. Thanks for providing the link! I blog about many issues; yes, a lot (but definitely, not all) of it is focused on religion, but it is not my intention to just go after one religion or the issues surrounding it. I could not understand at all what you meant by: "You'd want to cultivate some interest and respect for your views though before plunging into any confrontational argument." You meant that I should develop some interest & respect for the issues they discuss, or that I should sensitize them to my views and make them develop interest in and respect for my views?

    Lastly, let me tell you on a personal note, what I find most distressing about how society treats religion with such duplicity. Think of any politician who would ask his/constituency to kill people for simply being born in a different community and for having beliefs differing from that of his followers - what would you think of such a politician? What would you expect the legal machinery to do with such a 'leader'. No doubt, the same politician might elsewhere have said sensible things like 'universal brotherhood', 'greater tolerance', 'girl child education', etc., but contrast what you would feel for such politician with what followers of various religions feel about various religious texts (most usually, the ones belonging to their 'own' religion). Is this honest way of viewing things? It is this dishonesty that troubles me.

    Take care.

    PS: The Kashif of that website is not the one I had interacted with.

  8. Nastik,

    Hello, and welcome once again to my blog! It was a delight to see your comment. :) I'm not sure if you read the previous post, of which this is just a followup. Anyway, I have some idea of chronology of the verses, but my point was anyway very different. Whatever be the context of individual verses, why consider them 'divine', 'holy' and 'unquestionable'? And I'm afraid, even the best and most peaceful verses of most religious texts do not offer much greater wisdom than what a reasonably intelligent 15 year-old would possess in today's world! Of late (a few months back), I had come across some of the ideas of Vedanta, and I must say the ideas contained therein, in philosophical terms are quite sophisticated, yet, I see those ideas are more like hypothesis, and cannot stand strong rational scrutiny.

    Lastly, if a 'follower' has to apply so much brain to try to understand the context of the verses, and then re-apply them by re-calibrating the intolerance, violence and hatred in context of today's world, then why not discard such ideology and simply use one's logic and conscience instead. [Of course, I'm sure you are quite aware of this argument! :)]

    Thanks a lot for reading and commenting!

  9. reasonably intelligent 15 year-old??? Thats a very high lofty comparison!!!

    Of course if you increase the compared age by 100 years and factor in the senility or deadness as the case may be, its a perfect match. Any religion.

    I don't find these topics even worth discussing. People are mad.


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