Discussion:
Situational Passages in the Qur'an
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k***@astound.net
2006-08-09 14:27:40 UTC
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Different passages in the Qur'an belong to different categories of
discourse. One of these categories is what I call "situational". By
that I mean information addressed to the Prophet himself as guidance in
a particular situation. A relatively clear example would be 33.28 which
tells the Prophet what to say to his wives.

I have been identifying the commands given to belivers in the Qur'an
and, in the course of this exercise, I have been passing over
situational commands as not applicable to believers in general. It has
become clear to me that I stumbled into a major hermeneutical crux.

The Qur'an says, many times, that believers should obey Allah and his
messenger. Speaking generically, this is usually read to mean obey
what is written in the Qur'an and obey what is reported in the Sunna.
Here I am concerned only with what is written in the Qur'an. Again
speaking generically, "obey" is usually read as "do all that is
recommended in the Qur'an" and "do not do what is disparaged". I have
deviated from this general approach by seeking out specifically
imperative commands in the Qur'an.

But the Qur'an does not say that believers should imitate the Prophet.
There are passages (for example, 53.2 and thereafter) that can be read
to say that the Prophet achieved perfection and from such passages
people have deduced that the Prophet is intended to be the universal
role model. Be that as it may, the hermeneutical crux I have in mind is
how to interpret the situational passages.

The particular example I want to discuss is the "sword ayat". The
sword ayat is 9.5, the fifth ayat in the ninth surat, al-Bara'at. It is
quite famous. Here, for example, is a comment about it (by a writer
hostile to Islam):

"An example of the abrogation: There are 124 versus that call for
tolerance and patience that have been cancelled and replaced by one,
single verse. This verse is called the verse of the sword: But when the
forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye
find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in
every stratagem (of war)..... "

But the ayat 9.5 is clearly situational and applied, once upon a time,
to a particular situation the proto-Muslims were faced with. The entire
passage involved extends from 9.1 to 9.22. 9.1-2 may not belong to this
situation, but rather to a slightly earlier one.

The situation involves mosques (as in 9.17) and to one particular
mosque called the "sacred" (HRAM) mosque (as in 9.7). It also involves
the Hajj (as in 9.3) and the sacred months (which months these are is a
side issue I will avoid for now). The passage as a whole says that
whatever truce was in place with the "idolators" ends (according to 9.5
itself) when the sacred months end. Then outright war is declared.

However if any of the "idolators" asks for protection (that is,
surrenders) he is to be protected (this is a singular imperative) (as
in 9.6).

Thus it seems clear that the entire passage applies only to one
situation. Traditionally (according to Ibn Ishaq) that situation
occured in 9 AH after Mecca had become Muslim. It is not clear in the
tradition whom the hostility is addressed against. Ibn Ishaq speaks in
terms of a general agreement with all the "polytheists". Since the
deputations from the tribes to Muhammad begin immediately thereafter,
it seems to me that, although he does not so state (or Ibn Hisham has
removed the statement), we are supposed to understand that, deprived of
their sanctuary, the tribes of Arabia all turned to Islam to regain
access to it.
From the point-of-view I have deduced for Ibn Ishaq the sword passage
(9.1-22) set off a very important historical event. But neither he nor
I see any reason for reading it as a precedent for all Muslims forever.

Thus I maintain that the sword ayat abrogated nothing at all, that it
is not a command to Muslims in general, that it is not a precedent
anyone should follow and that it applied to a single event (even if Ibn
Ishaq may have gotten some of the details wrong) that happened a long
time ago.

This, of course, is not the traditional conclusion drawn from the sword
ayat. However, I would be surprised if I were the first person to
advocate this treatment of the sword ayat.
Altway
2006-08-14 12:53:50 UTC
Permalink
Post by k***@astound.net
Different passages in the Qur'an belong to different categories of
discourse. One of these categories is what I call "situational". By
that I mean information addressed to the Prophet himself as guidance in
a particular situation.
Post by k***@astound.net
But the Qur'an does not say that believers should imitate the Prophet.
....and from such passages people have deduced that the Prophet is intended
to be the universal
role model. Be that as it may, the hermeneutical crux I have in mind is
how to interpret the situational passages.

Comment:-
Not for imitation but as a guide.

"O Prophet! Surely We have sent you as a witness, and as a bearer of good
news and as a Warner, 33:46. And as one inviting to Allah by His
permission, and as a light-giving Lamp." 33:45-46

"Say: If you love Allah then follow me, and Allah will love you and forgive
you your sins, for Allah is Forgiving and Merciful." 3:31

"Verily, you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent example for him who
hopes in Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah much. " 33:21

"O you who believe! Respond unto Allah and His Messenger when He calls you
to that which quickens you; and know that Allah comes in between a man and
his own heart; and that He it is unto Whom you shall be gathered." 8:24
Post by k***@astound.net
This verse is called the verse of the sword: But when the
forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye
find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in
every stratagem (of war)..... "
Post by k***@astound.net
But the ayat 9.5 is clearly situational and applied, once upon a time,
to a particular situation the proto-Muslims were faced with.
Thus I maintain that the sword ayat abrogated nothing at all, that it
is not a command to Muslims in general, that it is not a precedent
anyone should follow and that it applied to a single event.

Comment:-
(1) Not all situations that the Muslim community under Muhammad (saw) had to
deal with
are mentioned in the Quran. This situation is in the Quran because it is an
example of other similar situations that may arise.
(2) But it is not to be taken out of context. It the context of a defensive
war against attacks.
(3) More over, it can also have an even more general symbolic meaning in
that the attack might be verbal or through other actions or it may refer to
psychological attacks by ideas within the persons own mind.

I see that you are attempting to understand how the rules or even the Shria
arises from the Quran
In order to understand this and its relation to the rest of the teachings
you need to understand the following :-

(1) There is distinction between Allah who has the Absolute Truth, Virtue
and Power and the created world of relativities where there is a distinction
of degrees. There is no absolute distinction in the Quran (a) between
teaching stories, history, moral teachings, practical instructions,
guidelines, recommendations, laws, the useful, matters of procedure,
statement of facts and value judgements, or (b) between what is absolutely
true or false, good or evil, useful or harmful and what is conditional or
dependent on the perception and intention of people or (c) between different
aspects of life such as crimes, morals, private and social behaviour,
etiquette, good manners, matters of hygiene and even thoughts, motives and
actions, and what a person does to himself or to others. All behaviour is
judged according to its spiritual effects on the person himself and on
others, these two being inter-dependent.

(2) The Quran contains similitudes such that the particular is an example of
the general. So though the Quran mentions only a relatively small number of
particular things while the world presents a far greater number of different
things and events, analogical reasoning is required to extend consideration
to all other cases that may arise.

(3) The Sharia is one of three parts of Islam:- Haqiqat (the Truth), Tariqat
(the Method or Way and Shariat (the Law). The Law exists to give order to
the community, to incorporate the Ideal, educate and instruct people as to
what it is and create conditions in which the spiritual life is made
possible and encouraged. It should lead to the next stage, the Tariqat,
where deliberate conscious action based on correct motivation and
understanding are cultivated. This in turn should lead to the third stage
where the nature of the person is transformed and he is a Muslim in fact.

(4) The Quran can be seen as having three levels:- (i) The World View - The
Primary Principles or basic concepts e.g. Allah, Surrender, Vicegerency,
the nature of man and his responsibilities, the nature of good and evil.
(ii) The Secondary principles, the notions of Truth, Compassion, Justice,
the rights and duties. (iii) The Tertiary principles, which are methods
ensuring the operation of the secondary values. This refers to the way
things are organised. (iv) The particular conditions and the specific laws
which prescribe punishment and reward for specific actions or inaction.
Judgements can be based on any of these levels.

(5) The following features are important:- (a) Nothing can be forbidden that
is not expressly forbidden. (b) No one is guilty unless proved to be so. (c)
The intention behind the act makes people culpable but they do have the
responsibility to ensure as far as possible that their actions have good
rather than evil results. A distinction is made between what is forbidden,
disapproved of, allowed, recommended, and obligatory. Some things that are
bad are forgivable under certain conditions, e.g. stealing when under
necessity, killing in self-defence and war. Other things that are normally
good can be bad under certain conditions e.g. helping criminals.

(6) The Quran requires obedience to Allah, the Prophet and those in
Authority (4:59). That is the order of priority. The Quran contains mainly
general principles, but the Prophet adapted and applied these to the
conditions of life he found himself in. The Sharia is derived from the Quran
(the Word of God) and Sunna (the Traditions of the Prophet), but it is an
interpretation by the third Authority. Though the systems of certain past
authorities have become sacrosanct causing Islam to become stagnant, there
is no reason to suppose that such interpretations and adaptations cannot be
done by present day authorities with the appropriate qualifications.

(7) The construction of the Sharia is the concern of those who know,
understand and apply the Quran and have the experiences connected with the
practice of Islam and of the community of Muslims. It must be done with pure
motives on objective principles and cannot be done on the basis of whim,
prejudice, expediency, self-interest, ignorance, or competition for power.

Hamid S. Aziz

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