Conventional Understanding is Inadequate

article picked 4U by - Mohammad Shahrour

May 17, 2020

Why the Conventional Understanding of Islam and Eman is not Adequate.

Traditionally, the term Islam stands for the religion of those who are commonly known as Muslims, the followers of Prophet Muhammad. In this traditional understanding, the term Eman (believe) has been used to also describe the ‘faith’ of these Muslims, the adherents of Islam. The result of linking Eman to Islam was that the followers of Muhammad were thought to be both the Muslims Arabic (al-muslimun) and the believers ( al-muminun), while it was ignored that there is a big difference between Islam and Eman. In the books of the prophetic sayings (hadith), scholars both terms have also been treated as more or less synonymous (al-Bukhari; Muslim, ‘tirmidhi, nissai’i , chapters on Eman). However, the assumption of synonymity in Allah’s Book has been a fundamental flaw in traditional scholarship. As we will prove logically, it has obscured the fact that the two terms are neither semantically nor etymologically identical. It is the aim of this series not only to explore the semantic differences between Islam and Eman but also between terms such as kufr, shirk, and jirm, words that the west has a fair share of hearing it from Islamic scholars, which were all thought to be synonymous terms contrasting with Islam and Eman as we see it in the works of scholars and so forth. These videos hope to demonstrate the distinct universal nature of the term muslimun (those who assent to God), which can be (generically) applied to all believers in this world, and this in contra distinction to the term muminun (those who believe), which, because it describes a more particular type of religious belief, must be used only for the followers of Prophet Muhammad.

Let us first revisit how Islam and Eman have been traditional understood. Islam is commonly perceived to be based on the following five pillars:

1. The shahada: the creedal statement that ‘there is no god but God’ and that ‘Muhammad is the Messenger of God’;

2. Salah: the ritual to pray five times a day;3. zakah: the duty to donate money as a ‘poor due’ or alms tax’;

4. Saum: the fast during the month of Ramadan;

5. Hajj: the pilgrimage to Mecca ‘for those who have the means to do so’. The common description of believe (Eman) is that it is based on the following five tenets of belief in: 1. Allah; 2. His angels; 3. His books and messengers;  

 4. The Hereafter; 5. Allah’s divine predestination and His power over good and evil. It is immediately clear from these (quite dubious) lists, the pillars of Islam and the tenets of Eman, that they are either based purely on ritual practice (Islam) or on theological doctrines (Eman). Ethical and moral rules have been entirely excluded from either category. As a consequence, secularists, nationalists, and Marxists have wrongly perceived the religion of Islam as fundamentally flawed and incapable of providing moral guidance for people in modern societies—a perception that has relegated Islam to the scrap heap of history. What has been ignored in such often-anti-religious propaganda, is the fact that moral teachings were always an inseparable part of Islam, and that it was only because of the scholars’ ignorance that ethics was excluded from religion. It is the aim of this video and indeed the entire series to reconnect ethics to religion and to present an interpretation of Islam in which the moral teachings of the Quran are rediscovered for the benefit of all civil society, which gets its priorities right and places enlightened, civility before stupefying ritualism and mindless doctrinism.

in Disproving the Conventional Understanding Islam and Eman, We will now turn to the text of the Quran, which according to our terminology is called the Book. Let us first agree that Allah’s revelation is free from error and human interpolation. Let us also agree that we must identify the meaning of the terms Islam and Eman by locating them in the context in which they appear in the Book. It will then immediately become clear that the traditional definitions of Islam and Eman do not make sense, and that those who insist on the old definitions actually deviate from the Book. The results of our findings can be summarized as follows:

1.‘men and women who assent to God’

al-muslimun for male and al-muslimat female are both terminologically and conceptually separated from ‘men and women who believe’, al-muminun for male and al-muminat for female. ‘ The desert Arabs said to the prophet, “We have faith [ammanna].” And Allah said to the [Prophet], tell them, “You do not have faith [lam tu’minu]. What you should say instead, ‘We have submitted [aslamna], for faith [al-Eman] has not yet entered your hearts’ ( Al-hujurat sura 49: verse 14,).

2. Based on 49:14, Islam precedes Eman chronologically in terms of its appearance in human history as well as biographically in terms of the individual’s spiritual progress and transition from Islam to Eman. 3. Muslims are not the followers of Prophet Muhammad! Instead, the Jinns, Abraham, Jacob, the tribes of the Israelites, Joseph, the magicians of the Pharaoh, the disciples of Jesus, Noah and Lot, they are the actual Muslims before the message of Muhammad. Historically speaking, none of them could follow the Prophet Muhammad. Instead, they followed other messengers:  for example, the disciples followed Jesus and the magicians of the Pharaoh followed Moses. If we keep postulating that the shahada is the first pillar of Islam and the ultimate criterion for adherence to Islam, that one must follow Muhammad as the Messenger of God, We would negate those from Other so-called pre-Islamic prophets, their families, and tribes, who could not yet have known Muhammad, but whose strong adherence to Islam is well-attested in the Book, they would also be excluded from being attached to Islam on the grounds that they did not follow Prophet Muhammad. 4. The rituals of prayer, alms tax, fast, and pilgrimage are not pillars of Islam. This is because the Book demands that these rituals be practiced only by the Muslim-Believers (al-muminun) and not by the Muslim-Assenters (al-muslimun). 5. The pillars of Islam cannot be reduced to religious rituals because the Book mentions other things that are absolutely essential to Islam, for example, the injunction to fight, to defend, and to seek consultation, to fulfil contracts and obligations, and many, many other moral and legal responsibilities.

5. ‘For such prayers are enjoined on believers (al-muminin) at stated times’

6. To interpret the words ‘Allah only accepts Islam’ and ‘The followers of Islam will enter Paradise’ as a reference only to those who adhere to Muhammad, and thus reduce Islam to the prayer, alms tax, fasting, and pilgrimage of only one part of all humankind, contradicts the spirit of the Book. Such an exclusive claim by one specific religious community has been repeatedly rebuked by the Book. The Quran fiercely criticized those who had desired God’s favor solely for Themselves. 7. The narrow definition of Islam referring only to prayer, alms tax, fasting, and pilgrimage deviates from the most fundamental teachings of the Book. To say, for example, that Allah approves of only one religious’ community and its specific rituals, Islam in its narrow conventional and historical sense, contradicts Allah’s notion of Islam as a religion that is inherent in human nature and that Allah has bestowed upon all of All his creation. The implication of the qur’anic verses is that the pillars of al-Islam must be consistent with the natural disposition, that God instilled in mankind. It implies that nothing of this religion must contradict human nature. But do the rituals of historical Islam really conform to the natural instincts of all human beings? In other words, are humans naturally inclined to perform these rituals? Of course not. To pay alms tax (zakah), for example, means to give away money and part of our possessions, which undoubtedly goes against human instinct!! Allah has ordered His creation to care for property and to ‘love wealth with a passion’. Likewise, to fast (saum) contradicts our natural disposition because It undermines the human instinct for survival. The basis of human nature is to eat and drink and to satisfy hunger and thirst; it is not to fast. It is to reveal emotions and even to shout insults as a spontaneous expression of anger and provocation, and not to hold back because of Ramadan’s sacredness.

In contrast, the specific rituals of Muhammad’s community are all against human nature. If these rituals were part of our human nature, we all would perform them naturally like drinking and eating and we would not need explicit commands from God to do so as they are given in the Book! we would act perhaps similar to a cow which instinctively eats only grass because Allah made this the inherent disposition of cows. We, however, do not perform any of these rituals by instinct or on impulse, which means that the specific forms of prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage and so on cannot be part of Islam, the religion of all humankind. Instead, they are only part of the definite section of Allah’s Book. They were stipulated only for the Muslim-Believers (al-muminun), not for all Muslim-Assenters (al-muslimun) who, by their natural disposition, instinctively follow the religion of Islam, and not of Eman.

towards a new uberstanding is next.