by Phillip Vanwinkle
JULY 3, 2015

What Should I Know About Islam? 2

In our first study about Islam, we learned a couple of reasons why Islam may be difficult for us (in the West) to understand. One reason mentioned was because there are two sides to Islam: a religious side, and a political side. The second thing we mentioned is that Islam is determined not by the people, but by their authoritative books.

Today, we will discuss three more things that we need to know about Islam.

The Arrangement of the Quran

First, unlike the Bible, the Quran is arranged in a very odd way. Some contend that the order of the Quran is placed from the longest to the shortest. Be that as it may, reading the Quran can be very confusing. For instance, you open the Quran to read it, and you read Sura 1 (Chapter 1). Only, that is not really the first chapter, chronologically. You turn to the last chapter, only to find out, that is not really the last chapter. And it is like that pretty much all the way through.

We understand that the Bible is not necessarily 100% in chronological order. That is not the major issue. But one reason it can be difficult to grasp what the Quran is all about is that it is all over the map. There is no real continuity or flow to it. In the Bible we understand that Genesis discusses the first couple thousand years of humanity, and the rest of the Old Testament is pretty much the story of the Jews, from the Exodus to the time they come out of captivity and await the Savior. The New Testament then begins with the coming of the Savior, the starting of the church, and the instructions to help bring followers to Heaven. But with the Quran, there seems to be no real rhyme or reason as to why the books are placed where they are placed.

According to WikiIslam there is an actual “traditional order” or a chronological order to the Quran. This link will serve as a help, if you are interested in the chronological order of the Quran.

The first point is simply stated to help us understand that when we open up the Quran to read it, be warned that it will be difficult to follow.

From Mecca to Medina

The second point, however, is much more weighty and is built upon the first point. If you took the time to click and review the link above, you will have noticed that there are two different locations where Muhammad supposedly received revelation from Allah: Mecca and Medina.

According to Islamic sources, he began receiving messages while in Mecca. He first attributed these ‘visions’ as visits from the devil, or thought perhaps he was crazy. However, his family convinced him that these visions were from Allah, so he then began to assume that he was a prophet. He therefore felt he had the right to speak for Allah as his inspired messenger.

Without writing yet another book on why Muhammad left his homeland of Mecca for Medina (there are plenty of books about this), it is agreed that he left Mecca because of his supposed visions and his teaching of Islam, and the people’s rejection of his ideas about Allah. His townspeople rejected him, and pretty much forced him out. He did find support from his friends in Medina, and so he left for Medina, fleeing Mecca.

After arriving in Medina, he received many more revelations. He spoke those revelations to the people in Medina and they were much more accepting. There Muhammad, by way of the sword, began to make ‘converts’ to Islam. One thing that is agreed upon by Christians and many Muslims is that the tenor of the messages is much different. As you read through your Quran you will notice that many of the passages are peaceful. Yet it also contains some terribly violent passages.

To Christians and others who understand some sort of logic, there appears to be an obvious contradiction. When one passage says “there is no compulsion in religion” and another passage says “kill those who do not believe,” we turn around and say, “See, there is a contradiction.”

Depending upon which Muslim you talk to, they will come up with different reasons as to why there is no contradiction. Most will say it is because you are taking the passage out of the context.

I do agree with the thought that we should look at the context as best we can to determine what is being said. However, as stated earlier, the Quran is hard to read if you are trying to get an actual context. In many cases you must turn to the Hadith to try to figure out any context at all to the Quran.

However, there is a key: as far as the peaceful passages and the violent passages are concerned, (though there are plenty of other contradictions), there is no contradiction. "Why?" you ask. It is because of something known as abrogation.

What Is Abrogation?

Two thoughts about abrogation:  First, Muslims have a problem with others knowing about this idea. Some because of what it assumes about Allah, that he would take away and destroy one passage in favor of another ‘new’ revelation.

Second, Muslims who do agree that Allah has abrogated passages cannot agree on which ones have been abrogated and which have not.

So the general rule is: If the passage was revealed later, and contradicts a previous passage about the same subject, the most recent revelation abrogates the previous.

According to the Quran, to abrogate means to ‘blot out’. Notice Arberry and Sale version of Surah 13:39

God blots out, and He establishes whatsoever He will; and with Him is the Essence of the Book. (Arberry)

God shall abolish and shall confirm [what he pleaseth]. With him is the original of the book. (Sale)

Notice Yusuf Ali’s translation of this same verse:

Allah doth blot out or confirm what He pleaseth: with Him is the Mother of the Book. (Ali)

However, in Yusuf Ali’s translation of the Quran, he hedges on abrogation, saying that when a passage is abrogated it is not forgotten; rather, it is simply replaced by something better.

None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that Allah Hath power over all things? (Surah 2:106)

This idea even caused Muhammad trouble while he was living. Notice what the people in his day said when he brought a different revelation than a previous one.

When We substitute one revelation for another,- and Allah knows best what He reveals (in stages),- they say, "Thou art but a forger": but most of them understand not. (Surah 16:101)

Those living in his day realized that abrogation appeared to be nothing more than a forgery.

What are a few things that were abrogated?

One was the Muslims’ use of alcoholic beverages. Surah 2:219 says:

"They will ask thee about wine and lots, say, 'In them both is sin and profit to men; but the sin of both is greater than the profit of the same.' They will ask thee what they shall expend in alms: say, 'The surplus.' Thus does God manifest to you His signs; haply ye may reflect on this world and the next!"

 Surah 5:90-91 says:

"O true believers, surely wine, and lots, and images, and divining arrows [are] an abomination of the work of Satan; therefore avoid them, that ye may prosper. Satan only desires to place enmity and hatred between you by wine."

In the first passage, Allah says there is some benefit in drinking wine, while the second says wine is meant to cause hatred and is a device used by Satan. This is a simple yet easily seen picture of how abrogation happens in the Quran.

There are other examples as well, for example:

  • The proper place to pray (Q. 2:142-144)
  • The taking of wives (33:50-52), etc…

However, the one that is most concerning in this day and age is that of the treatment of those who are not Muslims. This is particularly relevant with the recent actions of ISIS.

What does the Quran say about how Muslims are to treat those who are not Muslims? Notice these verses:

From Mecca, it was revealed in Surah 109:1-6

Say: O disbelievers!
I worship not that which ye worship;
Nor worship ye that which I worship.
And I shall not worship that which ye worship.
Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion.

This passage is an example of that which is peaceful. It was written at a time when Muhammad was in the minority, and his followers were not so bold to push their ideas on others. So you have passages like “let there be no compulsion in religion,” and “you have your religion and leave me to mine.”

But notice in the final marching orders to Muhammad, one of the last revelations he received in Medina:

Concerning Idolaters:

"But when the sacred months are passed away, kill the idolaters wherever ye may find them; and take them, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in every place of observation; but if they repent, and are steadfast in prayer, and give alms, then let them go their way; verily, God is forgiving and merciful."

Concerning Jews and Christians:

"O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people." (5:51)

Then in 9:29

"Fight those who believe not in God and in the last day, and who forbid not what God and His Apostle have forbidden, and who do not practice the religion of truth from amongst those to whom the Book has been brought, until they pay the tribute by their hands and be as little ones." (9:29)

Once in Medina, and politically in control, Muslims became more emboldened. The political arm and physical sword of Islam allowed Muhammad to begin his reign as Warrior-King. It was after his move to Medina that his message changed-–that Allah decided to abrogate the earlier verses of the Quran. In Medina, since the Muslims were in a position to show force, Allah abrogated the previous passages that were peaceful.

So as you struggle to understand the Quran and whether or not Islam is peaceful, recall what we have studied thus far.

  1. There are 2 sides to Islam: a religious side, and a political side.
  2. Truth in Islam is not determined by how Muslims act or do not act. It is determined only by their “Authoritative Sources”: the Quran, Sira, and Sunna (found in the Hadith).
  3. The Quran is not arranged in any specific order. It can be difficult to have any context just by reading your Quran. You have to also study the Hadith if you want to understand the background story about why a particular ‘revelation’ was given.
  4. There are two periods of ‘revelation’ spoken by the prophet: The Mecca period, and the Medina period.
  5. Allah abrogated certain passages which he had written earlier, doing away with them and giving new and altogether different passages in his later revelations.

Why then are our Western Muslim neighbors so friendly? Why do they disagree with the idea of fighting? Remember the second point. Islam is not determined by what certain Muslims do or do not practice.

Continue to come back as we look deeper into this and other questions.

Tags: Islam