Whatever Happened to Islam?

In the Quran, God promises peace, security, health, wealth and happiness – and between the 8th and 14th centuries, that’s what happened within Islamic countries.

The Islamic Golden Age was a period of immense cultural development and scientific advance.  Scholars from across the known world came to study at the great Islamic centres of learning.

Muslim scholars absorbed the scientific knowledge of the Greeks, Persians, Indians, Chinese, Egyptians, and Phoenicians, and their scholarship was based on teachings in the Quran that give great value to learning and the importance of knowledge.

During this period, Muslim scholars made great discoveries in mathematics, astronomy, biology, medicine and chemistry.  But it was also a time of social cohesion and the rule of law.  There was both inpatient and outpatient healthcare, and hospitals were forbidden by law to turn away patients unable to pay.   (I know healthcare was available, but not sure to which extent it was free. PM)

Yet Muslim countries are now some of the least developed, poorest, most corrupt and tyrannised countries in the world.  Instead of God’s promise, what we see are Muslims living in poverty in failed nations. 

So, what happened? Does God not keep his promises? Or is it that Muslims, while believing they follow the Quran, are in fact not doing so? 

Once, the world looked up to the scholarship and wisdom of the Islamic world.  Now, many Muslims are intellectually restricted, unable to question received wisdom.  Worse: in the last few decades, they have also become increasingly demonised. 

Their beliefs and culture, once forward-looking, are seen as backward and medieval, with Muslims branded as terrorists.  This is not exactly the promise that God gave to Believers.

I believe the time has now come for Muslims, and everyone who wants a better world, to critically analyse and evaluate every aspect of ‘Islamic’ tradition.  It should be an evaluation without sentiment or prejudice.  We absolutely need to re-establish Islam as a peaceful and unthreatening force for good.

We shouldn’t forget that at one time, anyone in Europe or Asia who wanted to progress their knowledge in sciences such as astronomy, mathematics and medicine learned Arabic.  European Renaissance scholars also studied it to better understand the social reforms prescribed in the Quran.

A key message in the Quran is not to set up or accept any authority to rank with God. This also means not to accept and apply any laws or values that conflict with those given in the Quran, thus accepting authority other than God. To do so is deemed an unforgivable offence.

So why has God forsaken these people for at least the last thousand years? The answer is that He hasn’t.  The answer is that Muslims have deviated from a true interpretation of Islam, and have forsaken themselves, because the Quran’s inspiration is to put beliefs into action through good conduct and create a just society for everyone, not just Muslims.

So, if people have been ignoring God’s guidance, then what exactly have Muslims been following in the centuries since Muhammad’s death?  The answer is that another source of belief has evolved, one that in many respects contradicts the core tenets of the Quran.

Besides believing in the Quran, this new tradition also requires Muslims to believe in doctrines called the hadith and the sunnah. These are, respectively, sayings and actions attributed to Muhammad in books compiled around 200 years after his death.  These rituals and laws originate not from God or Muhammad, but instead by imams who assembled the numerous books of the hadith literature. 

It is the hadith that must be scrutinised because hadith is the precursor of all modern ‘Islamic’ theology and, for example, Sharia law, which allows for stoning, beheading and the murder of those branded as apostates.  These are laws that are being blindly implemented today.  They are utterly wrong and the root cause for Muslim’s diminished unity and place in the world.

This internal disunity can be seen in Lebanon, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria.  It can also be seen in north Africa.  Largely, although not exclusively, it is the hadith that are the root cause, taking Muslims away from the core principles of the Quran, and allowing them to justify agendas of sectarianism or extremism.

These deviant hadith beliefs have led to atrocities of the worst kind, not least? internecine murder, or the murders of anyone perceived as blaspheming the Prophet.  Or, as we have seen in recent weeks in France and Austria, anyone who isn’t a Muslim – despite such killing being condemned in the Quran.

In the Islamic Golden Age, Muslims were true examples for humanity. They fathered much of the sciences and lent their names to many aspects of philosophy, physics, geometry, chemistry, astronomy, biology and physiology. All this at a time when Europe was in total darkness.

Now, Muslims are barely a shadow of their predecessors.  Could it be that this is because they have deviated from God’s teachings, and given up on personal tolerance, peace, equality and respect?  Could it be that they have corrupted the messenger’s original teachings, the guidance entrusted in him by God?  Could it be that they have ignored the Quran and instead glorify the hadith?

The answer is yes.  Many Muslims, open-minded but misguided, recognise the failure of the hadith but, without checking, mistakenly think that all the profanity and cruelty in the hadith originate from the Quran.  It doesn’t.

But the insidious influence of the hadith now gives many Muslims a blueprint for everything in their lives.  Now, they prescribe every form of behaviour from the ‘correct’ method of sleeping, washing, bathing, eating or dressing. Under the mullah’s direction, many Muslims effectively killed off their own intellect.  For those imams looking for passive followers, the hadith became an effective tool. 

The truth is that imams, seeing a threat to their influence, ruled to cut off all intellectual discussion. They came up with the simple and effective idea that only the imams, the priestly class, would be allowed to handle all matters of belief – they would teach people to call them the inheritors of the messenger’s mission. 

Despite the fact that Islam never allowed any hereditary monarchy or priesthood, the imams went on successfully to set up not only a priestly class but a whole hierarchy of priests. They imposed this upon the masses and denied them any access to a true understanding of the Quran.  That’s been the case for centuries.

But there will be no more messengers to put this right.  Muhammad’s mission culminated with the final detailed and complete guidance of the Quran, and it is the implementation of the Quran, and the Quran alone, that can now deconstruct religious thought and provide a dynamic order for social reform. 

In doing so, we must therefore question all traditions and received wisdoms.  After all, God has given us the mind and the intellect to question and to criticise.  Our aim must simply be to get back to the truth, and put aside the lies that have been perpetrated by the fabricated hadith

I’m not advocating something that hasn’t been advocated before.  People such as Muhammad Tawfiq Sidgi and Mahmud Abu Rayya, both from Egypt, questioned the acceptability of the hadith. In India, the Tolu-e-Islam founded by Ghulam Ahmad Parwez arose during the 1930s to take Muslims back to the Quran.

Dr Abdul Wadud, a surgeon in the British Indian Army also wrote many books to promote Quranic guidance. The intrepid scholar Abdul Hasan Chekannur from Kerala also challenged anyone to show that Sharia succession law was from the Quran.

Similar questioning sprung up in other societies, and is indeed widespread today, especially with the advance of the internet and social media. Criticism of the hadith is therefore not new.

Simply, there is no basis for the hadith to be attributed to the messenger as a source of law or even guidance. This does not mean that all hadith are totally and completely redundant, far from it. Hadith that give proper historical information should be accepted and included as part of historical records. However, the guidance for laws and positive values must come from the Quran and Quran alone.

It was Quranic guidance that within 200 years propelled Muslims to overtake the greatness and the magnificence of the Roman and Persian empires.  Muslims founded an intellectual and material civilisation that served as the model and source of knowledge for the rise of Europe. It was Europe that inherited the Islamic mantle. The knowledge founded by Muslims was the spark that ignited Europe. Europe developed on borrowed knowledge.

In contrast, Muslims settled into a complacency that has smothered them for centuries, ignoring the source of past greatness and tying themselves to superstition and false ideas. The Quran, an enlightening beacon, has been put aside. So, is it any wonder today, with hadith that justify and promote murder, inequality and the suppression of independent thinking, that Muslims are groping in the dark? 

Between the bold identity statements of beards and hijabs of modern Islamists, the common denominator is empty rhetoric, without any proper knowledge or intellectual backing.  While claiming to have the Quran – God’s guidance – they are unwilling to apply it.  Instead, they have choked themselves with rituals, the supposed spirituality of the hadith and their assumed fundamentalism.  The result has been division, hatred, suppression and killing, and all in the name of God.

But the greatness of Islamic thinking still finds echo.  For example, in America’s Supreme Court in Washington there is a frieze in the chamber which pays homage to the ideas and principles that inspired the American legal system: one of which is the Quran. 

In the nation’s capital there are other references to Islam.  In the reading room of the Library of Congress, the oldest cultural institution in Washington, is a mural representing the nations and ideas that contributed most to American civilisation. One of the ideas represented is Islam. 

In holding up the great ideas that underpin civilisation, we should recognise that, while science can explain our surroundings, the world and the universe we live in, it cannot provide any ethical or moral framework on how we should use the power that such knowledge invests in us.

To create a just society, we need laws and ethics that benefit all humankind.  We need Absolute Laws and Permanent Values. The Quran gives absolute standards for the total welfare and progress of humanity, for individuals and societies. Indeed, these Absolute Laws and Permanent Values ensure that every individual has both rights and responsibilities.

The Quran provides the blueprint to create an environment in which each individual can realise his or her potential by replacing lower values with higher values and giving up something that is seemingly good for something that is truly great.

The Quran gives unchanging principles to deal with the root causes of the problems that face humankind. It allows us to question, to debate, to disagree.  The Quran doesn’t allow for hatred, least of all to non-Muslims.  Instead, it promotes peace, tolerance, equality and inclusion – for believers and unbelievers.  The Quran provides values for all individuals, communities and societies which seek a just and progressive social order.

It is the Quran alone that Muslims should return to. 

About Paigham Mustafa 2 Articles
AUTHOR Paigham Mustafa has been researching and studying the Quran since 1988 and spent over two years writing his book, The Quran: God’s Message to Mankind, published in 2016 and available from Amazon.

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