Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Yusuf Qaradawi: Is There More than One Islam?

A common refrain heard by those who adopt a critical approach to Islam is that there is not one but many Islams. Dr. Yusuf Qaradawi, probably Sunni Islam's best-known theologian and apologist, discussed that question on a recent Al Jazeera TV edition of Shariah and Life. The broadcast in Arabic is available here.

Host Uthman informed viewers at the onset of the program that the Quran states in Surat Al Imran (3:19) that Islam is the only religion accepted by Allah, and that those who follow any other religion will be condemned (3:85). But what is this Islam, and is it possible to speak of many Islams?

Dr. Qaradawi quoted Surat At Taghabun (64:8) and Surat An Nahl (16:44) to say the Quran was revealed from Allah as a clear and plain light, and there was no religion in the world more clear than Islam. He gave the classic definition of Islam as not the religion founded by Muhammad, but the only true religion that has existed for all time. Since the beginning of history Allah sent his Prophets and his Messages to call people back to Himself. Just as there were not many Prophet Abrahams or many King Davids, so there are not many Muhammads and many Islams. Just as there were not different Islams for different eras throughout human history, there are not different Islams today.

Dr. Qaradawi then took a moment to illustrate the Quranic teaching that all the Biblical heroes were Muslims who followed one single Islam in their submission to Allah. Noah said (10:72), "I have been commanded to be among the Muslims." Surat Al Imran (3:67) states that Abraham was neither a Christian nor a Jew, but a Muslim. Jacob, who was the grandson of Abraham, encouraged his offspring to be Muslim as he was (2:132). Joseph declared that he was a Muslim (12:101), and Moses commanded his people to follow Islam (10:84). Jesus and his Disciples bore witness to the fact they were Muslims (3:52). The only difference between Muslims today and then is that Islam is now complete, having been perfected by Muhammad, as demonstrated in Surat Al Maidah (5:3), "I have now perfected and completed Islam for you as your religion."

The Quran, continued Dr. Qaradawi, defines Islam in 4:136 and 2:177. The Muslim is one who believes in Allah, his Angels, his Books, his Messengers, and the Final Judgment (by contrast, the one who does not believe those - including belief in Muhammad as a Prophet and the Quran as Revelation - is a Kafir). These five Quranic statements of faith are accompanied by the five Pillars of Islam (exemplified not in the Quran, but in the life of Muhammad), the Shahada (I testify there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah), the Salat (five daily prayers), Sawm (Ramadan fast), Zakat (almsgiving), and the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca).

As Uthman pressed for the reason some claim there are "many Islams", Dr. Qradawi reminded viewers of the Quranic teaching that "some verses are clear and others are not" (3:7). The "unclear" verses allow for various Islamic schools of thought, and difference of interpretation about minor issues, but cannot be construed as different Islams. "Everywhere I go in the world," Dr. Qaradawi said, "I see Muslims praying at the same time and fasting at the same time. I see Muslims avoiding pork and alcohol, and eating only with their right hand. The laws of inheritance and the prohibitions against usury are the same. It is true that some Muslims follow their whims and ignore some of the rules of Islam, but that does not mean there is more than one Islam."

"There are two circles within Islam," continued Dr. Qaradawi, "An open circle that represents rulings open to interpretation, and a closed circle with rulings that are not. The Quran, for example, is within the closed circle and there can be no question about its rulings. The person who commits adultery is to be lashed exactly 100 times. It cannot be changed to 95 or 105 lashes. The open circle represents differences of opinion on how to apply, for example, different aspects of Shariah."

Uthman asked who were those insisting on many Islams. Dr. Qaradawi replied they were Western Orientalists who insisted that the Islam of Europe was not the Islam of Africa, and both of these were not the Islam of Asia or the Middle East. These same Orientalists separated Islam into the Islam of the Prophet and the Early Caliphs, as well as that of the Umayyid, Abassid, or Ottoman Empires, and "Modern Islam". They also tried to separate Islam into that of the Sufis, the intellectuals, or folk Islam. All these are vain attempts by the enemies of Islam to divide the one Islam accepted by God.

Dr. Qaradawi acknowledged that some who called themselves Muslims, such as the Black Muslims of America who thought that Satan was the White Man, or the Druze who did not pray in mosques, or the Qadaris in India who followed their own Prophet, were not really Muslims at all although some of them were open to reconciliation. Groups such as these, however, represent only a small minority of the worldwide Ummah.

A second guest, University of Lebanon Professor Ridwan Sayyid, added that a new generation of Western Orientalists had influenced even some Arab scholars to consider the existence of differing Islams. He agreed, however, with Dr. Qaradawi that the vast majority of Muslim scholars rejected the idea. When Uthman asked how Muslims could confront the false notion of various Islams, Dr. Sayyid replied they needed to recognize the power of a united Islam throughout history, and speak out against those whose interests lay in advocating a divided Islam.

My comment: As I noted at the beginning of this post, those in the West who are critical of Islam are often told they are being unfair because there are many Islams. Perhaps the many-Islam-Muslim-proponents in the West are the Arab scholars referred to by Ridwan Sayyid who are themselves influenced by Western Orientalists (why do I have a feeling that those whom Qaradawi and Sayyid unfavorably describe as "modern Western Orientalists" would include the many non-Muslim professors in our universities who see themselves as moderate and unbiased scholars of Islam?). At any rate I think it is noteworthy that, at least according to Qaradawi and Sayyid, those who speak of "many Islams" only represent a fringe of Islamic scholarship in the Muslim world.

Another common refrain recently heard in the West is that Shariah is such a massive and unwieldy subject it cannot even be spoken of as a united whole. It is worth noting that, according to Dr. Qaradawi, there are elements of Sharia that are open to application and interpretation. That is much different, however, than saying that Shariah is so broad it cannot even be discussed, or the application of Shariah to Western society cannot even be brought to the table.


Traeh said...

Some would call this a postmodern question. Quite a few people today talk as if there were not just "many" Islams, but an infinite number of Islams. It is sometimes suggested that Islam is whatever each individual says it is. At the other extreme are those who say there is no interpretive ambiguity whatsoever. One end of the spectrum is totally subjectivist, and the other end totally objectivist.

I believe the truth, though it is to be found at neither extreme, is closer to the objective pole. The meaning of the core texts is not infinitely malleable. Variations in how Muslims understand Islam are due less to conflicts of interpretation, than to different degrees of knowledge of the core texts. Much of Islam is literal and not particularly subject to "interpretation." Parables and metaphors and non-literal or allusively metaphysical talk of the spirit is not prevalent. Mysterious paradoxes, such as zen teachers and Jesus offered up, are not a prominent part of Islam. Even Islam's heaven is a very literal sort of "paradise"; in most respects it's the crudely concrete fantasy a very materialistic young man might come up with -- the best food, the best sex, the best entertainment, in the most comfortable setting, and all of it much more intense than anything on earth. Little or no hint of participation in the mysterious divine creativity; but eternal, non-allegorical erections, yes. So there is relatively little room for multiple interpretations in Islam.

Susanne said...

Karen Armstrong believes one verse quoted often to "'prove' that the Quran claims that Islam is the one, true faith and that only Muslims will be saved," in fact teaches the opposite because the word "islam" here was used prior to that word being the official name of Muhammad's religion.

When read in context, Armstrong believes this is a very pluralistic verse which includes all who surrender to God regardless of their official religions. Here is the verse she means:

"For if one goes in search of a religion other than self-surrender (islam) unto God, it will never be accepted from him, and in the life to come, he shall be among the lost."

That said, I could be 'muslim' (submitter to God) if I didn't have to accept anything Arabic about it. I don't want to learn Arabic in order to read the Quran. I don't accept the Quran and for sure I don't accept Muhammad as one who perfected or corrected the faith. Jesus' view is a MUCH higher standard and Muhammad's views are a regression to man's natural ways. Nothing holy about that.

Oh and I don't want the ahadith either. I don't need instructions on how to enter a bathroom or any other nonsense like this.

Quotable Quotes: said...

Except you would not be a Muslim but a Muslimah (feminine form). It is true that the verb AS-LA-MA means to submit to God, the active participle (or the person who does it) is the MUSLIM, and the noun (or the act of doing it) is ISLAM. So when they say that Adam, Noah, and Abraham were all Muslims, they mean they all submitted to God. The problem is that according to those two verses Qaradawi quoted, you have to believe in "all the prophets and all the messages" ...including Muhammad and the Quran. So even if Abraham got off the hook for not believing in Muhammad (or off the hook for not believing in Jesus for that matter) because he lived before both of them, unfortunately you and I don't have that option.

Susanne said...

Exactly why I cannot be a Muslim... a muslim, I would not mind. I just can't accept Muhammad and his revelation.

But, oh my, this present book I'm reading...this United Church of Canada pastor is teaching the Quran and Bible together as if they are both equally legit. I wondering why he has not submitted to Islam, but I'm still reading. Maybe he will by the end of the book.

Traeh said...

Karen Armstrong is notorious among Islam-critics as a white-washer of Islam.

Consider the specificity of religious demands made by Muhammad in the following canonical hadiths:

Muhammad goes to war to impose Islam

In Sahih Bukhari, the most canonical hadith collection:

Volume 1, Book 8, Number 387

...Allah's Apostle [Muhammad] said, "I have been ordered to fight the people till they say: 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah.' And if they say so, pray like our prayers, face our Qibla and slaughter as we slaughter, then their blood and property will be sacred to us and we will not interfere with them except legally and their reckoning will be with Allah..."

In other words, Muhammad says that if you are non-Muslim, your right to live will not be sacred to Muslims, nor your right to property.


Muhammad says your lives and property are not safe from him unless you become a Muslim

In Sahih Bukhari, the most canonical hadith collection:

Volume 1, Book 2, Number 24:

Narrated Ibn 'Umar:

Allah's Apostle said: "I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah's Apostle, and offer the prayers perfectly and give the obligatory charity, so if they perform all that, then they save their lives and property from me except for Islamic laws and then their reckoning (accounts) will be done by Allah."


Similarly in Sahih Muslim, a canonical hadith collection:

Book 031, Number 5917:

...Ali went a bit and then halted and did not look about and then said in a loud voice: Allah's Messenger, on what issue should I fight with the people? Thereupon he (the Prophet) said: Fight with them until they bear testimony to the fact that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his Messenger, and when they do that then their blood and their riches are inviolable from your hands but what is justified by law and their reckoning is with Allah.

Traeh said...


Here are a couple more citations that I think show Karen Armstrong's presentation of Islam is absurdly bowdlerized:

On page 672 (992 in the Arabic) of the earliest Muslim biography of Muhammad, he says

...kill those who disbelieve in God.


On page 222 (326 in the Arabic) of the earliest Muslim biography of Muhammad, he affirms that those who do not follow him will be slaughtered:

Abu jahl said to them: "Muhammad alleges that if you follow him you will be kings of the Arabs and the Persians. Then after death you will be raised to gardens like those of the Jordan. But if you do not follow him you will be slaughtered, and when you are raised from the dead you will be burned in the fire of hell." The apostle [Muhammad] came out to them with a handful of dust saying: "I do say that."


On page 131 (183 in the Arabic) of the earliest Muslim biography of Muhammad, he says, "I bring you slaughter."

While they were thus discussing him the apostle [Muhammad] came towards them and kissed the black stone, then he passed them as he walked round the temple. As he passed they said some injurious things about him. This I could see from his expression. He went on and as he passed them the second time they attacked him similarly. This I could see from his expression. Then he passed the third time, and they did the same. He [Muhammad] stopped and said, "Will you listen to me O Quraysh? By him who holds my life in His hand I bring you slaughter."

Susanne said...

Thanks, Traeh! Don't worry I didn't fall for her whitewashing attempts. I read her book and found plenty to take issue with and discussed those on my blog. Trust me. :)

I appreciate the ahadith you shared!

Traeh said...

Susanne, glad to hear it!

I'm going to look at your blog.