I recently watched a discussion on Arabic television about an emerging movement within Islam led by the "Quranieen" or "Quran-only Muslims". Most Muslims follow both the Quran and the Sunnah of Muhammad, which includes his sayings (the Hadith) and biography (the Sirah). Recognizing that the violence of the Sirah is too hard to defend (hands flying for theft, heads flying for unbelief, women torn apart by camels driven in opposite directions, poetesses killed in bed for their poetry), and the foolishness of many of the Hadiths is too much to believe (Q-When can a woman work in an office with men? A-After she breastfeeds each of them five times; Q-Why don't you need to worry if a fly drops in your soup? A-Because even though one wing carries harmful bacteria, the other wing carries the cure; Q-Why do some children resemble their mother and others look like their father? A-If the mother reached orgasm first, the child will look like her. If it was the father, the child will look like him), these Muslims have chosen to jettison both the Hadith and Sirah, and follow only the Quran.
One of the leaders of this movement is Dr. Ahmad Subhi Mansur from Al-Azhar University in Cairo. The episode of "Daring Question" that I viewed played an excerpt of Dr. Mansur discussing the movement on an Egyptian TV channel. When host Rashid asked guest Mark Gabriel - who was a PhD graduate from Al-Azhar in Islamic history before he left Islam and changed his name - for his comments, Mark replied that Dr. Mansur had been one of his professors when he was a student in the 1980's. What Mark remembered about Dr. Mansur was his violent attacks on Sufis and Sufi philosphy. "I could never have imagined," continued Mark, "That the day would come when Dr. Mansur would deny the Hadiths and lead the Quran-only movement."
When Rashid asked why someone would change his mind to this extent, Mark replied, "He was a professor of Islamic culture and history, and I think the same thing happened to him that happened to me. I always say, Woe to the person who specializes in Islamic history or culture, because he will eventually find himself forced to take one of two paths. Either he will take the path of radicalization and extremism, such as the Blind Shaykh Dr. Umar Abdel Rahman, or he will begin to question the Quran, or the Hadith, or Islam as Dr. Mansur has done. I believe that Dr. Mansur stopped halfway, in denying the Hadith but clinging to the Quran. I now deny both the Quran and the Hadith because it has become clear to me that neither of them are divine revelations."
Following his usual pattern, Rashid discussed the subject of the week for 30 minutes or so, and then opened the phone lines up to the viewers. The first caller was Fadil from Kuwait:
R(ashid) - Hello.
F(adil) - Greetings, brother Rashid.
R-Greetings, Fadil, and welcome.
F-Brother Rashid, here is my first question. The Quran says, There is no compulsion in religion. You cherrypick specific verses from the Quran and the Hadith and quote them on television just to stir up sectarian conflict and cause problems among Muslims.
R-How much do you know about the verse, There is no compulsion in religion? Don't you know it is one of the verses that have been abrogated and replaced by later verses? Many scholars including Quran expositor Ibn Kathir say this verse applied to the Ansar (the Arabs who converted to Islam in Medina). Before the arrival of Islam, if an Ansari woman could not give birth to a child who lived, she would vow that if she had a child who lived she would raise him as a Jew. When the Beni Nadir (one of the three main Jewish tribes in Medina) were exiled from Medina, some of these children born to Ansari women were living among them. The Ansar were unwilling to abandon their children, and God revealed the verse that they were not to be forced to convert to Islam (comment: meaning that rather than being a verse of religious tolerance and coexistence, this verse actually forced Muslim mothers to leave their children with the Jews).
F-You are just making that up. It is not an abrogated verse.
R-I took this evidence from the Muslim scholars, my friend. The verse "there is no compulsion in religion" has been abrogated. Sir, I am not going to teach you your religion. Go to your scholars, and you will find that information. What is your second question?
F-We know that there was a long period of time between the Prophet Jesus and the Apostle Paul, and we know that Paul founded the Christian religion. Therefore the Christianity that exists today is not the religion of Jesus but of Paul. Jesus has nothing to do with this religion. My third question is, where can I purchase some indulgences from my sins?
R-What is your evidence that there was a long period of time between Jesus and Paul? How long was it?
F-It was a hundred years.
R- One hundred years! That shows your knowledge of Christianity.
F-You say that Paul was one of the disciples of Jesus.
R-Sir, this shows your ignorance of Christianity. You need to read the Gospels. We will take another call, because I have nothing to say. You do not know your own history, because you are unaware that this verse was abrogated, and you do not know Christianity because you say there was 100 years between Jesus and Paul. Salem, how are you?
S(alem)-Greetings, Professor Rashid, can you hear me?
R-I hear you clearly, sir. Go ahead.
S-Greetings to you, Rashid, and greetings to your guest.
R-Greetings to you, sir, and thank you. Go ahead.
S-You know, sir, it is a big problem when someone does not understand, but does not realize that he doesn't understand and thinks that he understands. That is the problem.
R-That is a good summary.
S-The problem is when someone does not understand, but does not realize that he doesn't understand and thinks that he understands. I object to your saying the verse "there is no compulsion in religion" is abrogated. I wish you understood the essense of Islam. If a verse is from the Quran, or if a Hadith is authentic, it cannot be abrogated. Secondly, I do not believe that your guest Mark was ever a student at Al Azhar University. I heard him say he was a student of that Professor, and he pronounced the word "student" using the wrong vowel (comment: Arabic words take different vowels depending on their grammatical position in a sentence; Mark pronounced the word "student" as if it were the subject and not the object). A high schooler at Al Azhar would not make that mistake. How can you come on television like this and lie to the people?
S-OK, Mr. Salem, let's take this one question at a time. I said that some scholars say the verse "there is no compulsion in religion" was abrogated, and others say it applied to the Ansar living in Medina. It was the custom at that time for some of the Ansar to allow their children to live with the Jews in Medina. When Muhammad brought Islam, they had to choose between bringing their children back and forcing them into Islam, or leaving them with the Jews. So some scholars say the verse was abrogated, and others say it applied to the Ansar. What do you say?
S-You are an ignoramous. You don't understand, but you don't realize that and you think you understand.
R-Don't just repeat the same phrases over and over, but answer my question.
S-You don't understand...
R-That's enough of these linguistic games...
S-These are not linguistic games...
R-Then what is your reply to my question? The Quranic exigesis I quoted was made by Ibn Kahtir, and al-Qurtabi, and Tabari, and al-Razi.
S-You say you are quoting al-Qurtabi. Let's read al-Qurtabi together and see what he has to say.
R-Fine, go ahead and tell me what al-Qurtabi said.
S-You don't understand but you think that you understand. You are playing on the ignorance of the general public.
R-Don't try to run from my question. Tell me what the expositors said about this verse.
S-I'll teach you something about the expositors. There are different ways of looking at issues, Rashid.
R-Just give me a clear answer to my question. Was this verse abrogated, or did it apply to the Ansar?
S-It was not abrogated.
R-So was it intended especially for the Ansar?
S-The Quran is intended to be followed; it is not necessary to know the reason verses were revealed. Do you understand that principle?
R-No, I want to know why the scholars say that verse was revealed.
S-There are principles of Quranic exigesis. I told you that your problem is that you do not understand.
R-Your problem is that you do not want to answer the question. I'll let Dr. Mark comment on your second question. Thank you for your call, even though you only called to argue. Thank you, sir, and Mark, go ahead.
M(ark)-The Bible speaks of people who have ears but do not hear, and have eyes but do not see. The verbal games he was playing go against his own interests, and the interests of the viewers.
R-He was saying that the fact you were mixing your Egyptian dialect with formal Arabic means you could not have been a student al Al-Azhar University.
M-Well, I've been living in the West for 14 years and most of my interaction is not in Arabic....
R-and your books are in English...
M-My books are in English. I think that this person's communication style won't produce any results. Nothing will become clear to him.
R-Just so our viewers won't doubt you, could you give us the names of a few of the professors you studied with al Al-Azhar?
M-Dr. Abdel Fatah al-Shaykh was the President of Al-Azhar when I was a student there, and he was succeeded by Dr. Muhammad Tayyib al-Najjar. The Blind Shaykh Umar Abdel Rahman was my professor, as well as Dr. Ahmad Mansur, Dr. Muhammad Zaytun, and Dr. Abdel Aziz Ghranim. And of course my studies were in the field of Islamic history and culture, not in the Arabic language...
Professors of sociolinguistics can unpack conversations such as these and turn them into scholarly articles or even complete books. I'm not that skilled, but I would like to make a few observations:
1. Both callers called to argue, not for a real discussion.
2. None of the callers wanted to discuss the subject for the program, which was the "Quran-only" movement.
3. Neither caller could give answers to Rashid's questions to them.
4. The second caller quickly moved into personal attacks; "You are an ignoramous; he didn't really attend Al Azhar University."
5. Neither caller wanted to listen.
6. Both callers, like 90 percent of those who call in, were male.
Multiply these two calls by hundreds of others I've listened to, almost all similar, and you get the impression that very few Muslims, at least Arab-speaking Muslims living in the Middle East, are willing or able to respond to serious questions about their faith.