MUST READ: Robert Spencer's Blogging the Qur’an: Sura 2, 'The Cow,' Verses 141-210

(Read the prior post here.)

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How much is your life worth?

In Islamic law, a Muslim woman is worth half of a man, and a Jew or Christian is worth one-third of what a Muslim is worth.

Skeptical? Read on.

Continuing our tour through “The Cow,” the second and longest sura of the Qur’an, we encounter in verses 141-150 a discussion of the qibla, the direction for prayer. Allah tells the Muslims to face the sacred mosque in Mecca when they pray (v. 150), when previously they had joined the Jews in facing Jerusalem. According to Islamic tradition, this came at the end of Muhammad’s attempts to convince the Jews that he was a prophet in the line of the Jewish prophets.

Allah tells Muhammad that only “the foolish among the people” (v. 142) will protest the change. And who are they? You guessed it: the Jews. On that identification the relatively moderate commentator Muhammad Asad and the comparative hardliner Mufti Muhammad Aashiq Ilahi Bulandshahri agree.

Asad says: “This 'abandonment' of Jerusalem obviously displeased the Jews of Medina, who must have felt gratified when they saw the Muslims praying towards their holy city; and it is to them that the opening sentence of this passage refers.”

Allah further criticizes the Jews and Christians for following "their desires” even though they knew Muhammad’s qibla is from Allah (vv. 144-6).

We already saw that Allah's announcement that when he abrogated a verse, he would replace it with a better one (v. 106), and that some Muslims believe that refers to things in the Qur’an, and others think it applies only to the Bible’s having been superseded by the Qur’an. The change in the qibla has some bearing on this.

Ibn Abbas, Muhammad’s cousin and an important early Islamic authority, says that “the first abrogated part in the Qur’an was about the Qiblah.” However, there is nothing in the Qur’an directing Muslims to pray facing Jerusalem, so this is an abrogation of an extra-Qur’anic regulation. Abrogation, as we shall see, is far more important in other contexts.

The qibla change is also the first time that we encounter a running theme in the Qur'an: Allah's solicitude for Muhammad. An attentive reader of the Qur'an will come away thinking that in the eyes of the Supreme Being, Muhammad is the most important person who ever lived -- or the authors of the book wanted to make sure that readers thought so.

Allah presents the new qibla as if it is a gift especially for Muhammad, who "will be pleased" by the new direction for prayer (v. 144). Several other passages in the Qur’an show Allah’s special concern for Muhammad; another is Allah’s gently rebuking him for initially declining to marry his former daughter-in-law (a legendary beauty) when Allah wanted him to do so (33:37).

Such passages have led unbelievers to think that Muhammad was enjoying the personal perks of prophethood, but for Muslims they only underscore Muhammad’s special status: the details of his life, and even his desires — in longing to pray facing the Ka'ba — are vehicles through which Allah reveals eternal truths and divine laws. And his example is normative.

Muqtedar Khan of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy explains:

No religious leader has as much influence on his followers as does Muhammad (Peace be upon him) the last Prophet of Islam. ... So much so that the words, deeds and silences (that which he saw and did not forbid) of Muhammad became an independent source of Islamic law. Muslims, as a part of religious observance, not only obey, but also seek to emulate and imitate their Prophet in every aspect of life. Thus Muhammad is the medium as well as a source of the divine law.

Allah then encourages the believers to be steadfast (vv. 151-157) and approves of a pre-Islamic practice during the Hajj (v. 158), the pilgrimage to Mecca, before returning to one of favorite themes: the perversity of the unbelievers (vv. 159-177). Those who reject Islam will incur the curses of Allah, the angels, and all mankind (v. 161), and will dwell in hell (v. 162).

Meanwhile, the burden of the believers is not heavy. They only need abstain from certain foods, including pork (v. 173). There are among the unbelievers those who stubbornly conceal what they know Allah has revealed (v. 174).

Those who argue about what Allah has revealed in the Qur’an are in “open schism” (v. 176). The Tafsir al-Jalalayn says that these are — yet again — the Jews.

After that, Allah legislates on various matters: zakat (almsgiving), the Ramadan fast, the Hajj, and jihad (vv. 178-203). He establishes the law of retaliation (qisas) for murder (v. 178): equal recompense must be given for the life of the victim, which can take the form of blood money (diyah): a payment to compensate for the loss suffered. In Islamic law (Sharia) the amount of compensation varies depending on the religion of the victim: non-Muslim lives simply aren't worth as much as Muslim lives.

Umdat al-Salik (Reliance of the Traveller), a Sharia manual that Cairo’s prestigious Al-Azhar University certifies as conforming to the “practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni community,” says that the payment for killing a woman is half of that to be paid for a man and for killing a Jew or Christian one-third that paid for killing a male Muslim (o4.9).

For an explanation of this, see the Sufi Sheikh Sultanhussein Tabandeh’s statement here.

The following are among the Qur’an’s most important words about jihad warfare (vv. 190-193).

"Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress” (v. 190) is often invoked today to show that jihad can only be defensive. Asad says that “this and the following verses lay down unequivocally that only self-defence (in the widest sense of the word) makes war permissible for Muslims.”

However, the Tafsir al-Jalalayn says that this verse was abrogated by 9:1, which voids every treaty between the Muslims and nonbelievers. On the other hand, Ibn Kathir rejects the idea that the verse was abrogated.

What constitutes a defensive conflict? A clue to that comes in v. 193: “Fight them until there is no fitnah and worship is for Allah.” Fitnah is persecution or unrest. Ibn Ishaq explains that this means that Muslims must fight against unbelievers “until God alone is worshipped.”

Says Bulandshahri: “The worst of sins are Infidelity (Kufr) and Polytheism (shirk) which constitute rebellion against Allah, The Creator. To eradicate these, Muslims are required to wage war until there exists none of it in the world, and the only religion is that of Allah.”

That amounts to a declaration of perpetual war against all non-Muslim religions.

Nonetheless, this conflict would be essentially defensive, against the aggressions of unbelief: if Muslims must fight until unbelief does not exist, the mere presence of unbelief constitutes sufficient aggression to allow for the beginning of hostilities.

This is one of the foundations for the supremacist notion that Muslims must wage war against unbelievers until those unbelievers are either converted to Islam or subjugated under the rule of Islamic law, as Qur'an 9:29 states explicitly.

As the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, puts it in a hadith:

“I have been commanded to fight against people, till they testify to the fact that there is no god but Allah, and believe in me (that) I am the messenger (from the Lord) and in all that I have brought. And when they do it, their blood and riches are guaranteed protection on my behalf except where it is justified by law, and their affairs rest with Allah.” (Sahih Muslim 31)

Thus one may reasonably assume that if one does not accept him as a prophet, one’s blood and riches are not safe from those who read these words as the words of a messenger from the one true God.

In keeping with the theme of war, Allah then warns believers not to doubt, backslide, or follow Islam half-heartedly (vv. 204-210):

"O you who have believed, enter into Islam completely and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy" (v. 208).

This kind of statement makes reform difficult, for the reformer is always vulnerable to the charge that he is not entering Islam completely.