Can Quranic injunctions change over time ?
We appreciate your knowledge and honest concern for truth and justice, also your willingness to dialogue with us. You explained that in order to truly understand Islam, one has to study the Qu’ran very carefully. We feel, as you probably do also, that it is important to study the cultural context to understand Islam (or Christianity, Judaism, etc.).
We’ve noticed in our limited study of the history of the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) that in every case the Abrahamic religion took a spiritual step up from the religious/cultural customs of its time. That “upward” step increased mercy, compassion, fairness, justice, caring for others, right-living, etc. Islam, for example, required that the punishment not exceed the severity of the crime–a practice that had often resulted in blood feuds–and should be restricted to legally established consequences.
But, are all the laws given in the beginning of a religion, for that particular culture, still appropriate in the 21st century?
For example, in Judaism the Old Testament teaches animal sacrifice, burnt offerings in which the animal is totally consumed by sacrificial fire. At the time when the Hebrews were given these laws, the practice of their neighboring tribes was child sacrifice. The Old Testament is full of admonitions against child sacrifice, and animals were to be used instead.
The Levitical law given then was clearly MORE merciful, MORE compassionate, and MORE just compared to the general customs of its time, but today the opposite would be true. While admittedly our modern Western culture has made mistakes and taken backward steps in some areas, in other areas we have become more enlightened, spiritually advanced, humanitarian, merciful, compassionate and just. Slaughtering animals solely for ritual sacrifice (e.g., a burnt offering) is considered by today’s western culture as barbaric, cruel, and spiritually backward: the very opposite of merciful, compassionate and just. The Jews have abandoned this ancient practice (at least by our understanding), and rightfully so.
Will not the other two Abrahamic religions, Christianity and Islam, be facing some of the same issues in this enlightened age?
Some fundamental Christian sects, for example, refuse medical care for their sick children because they believe that God will save the child if it is His will; sometimes these children die for lack of proper medical attention.
The New Testament instructs Christians to cast out demons. Today, we know many “demons” are psychiatric problems which can be treated with proper medication and counseling. Yet some Christian sects still insist on practicing exorcism, often in brutal ways, rather than help the afflicted person get proper psychiatric care.
In the light of modern sociological and psychological knowledge about the causes underlying some criminal activity, as well as methods for rehabilitating “criminals”, should not our established punishments for crime such as beheading, torture, dismemberment, hanging, stoning, lengthy imprisonment, etc., be reconsidered?
Yes, the above paragraph does address some Islamic practices, but not ONLY Islamic. In a recent census, our “Christian” United States had the largest number of prisoners per capita in the world. We have been torturing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and our behavior in Iraq has clearly not represented Christian values. Judaism doesn’t get off the hook either, not with the present Palestinian situation.
How is it that the three Abrahamic religions which originally elevated their adherents to a new spiritual level, which attracted followers by their high standards, have now become symbols of ignorance, terrorism, backward thinking and ruthless barbarity?
Is it not our obligation to follow the examples of the prophets and to LEAD others, by our example, to a better, higher spiritual way? In order to do so, will we not have to admit that the times have changed, cultures have changed, the world has changed, and WE will have to find ways to apply our basic heartfelt spiritual principles to this CHANGED world? Isn’t it time to face the facts: some of our old methods, our old tenets, are outdated, backward, and are no longer effective?
As Lenin once asked, “what is to be done ?
Some practices in early Islam were meant only for the prophet’s time. Others were allowed temporarily and were desired to be phased out. Still others were optional and they still are optional. There are some practices which have no basis in Islam and are carried out in the name of Islam. And a good part of Islamic practices were meant for all times to come.
Killing the infidels for disbelief was era-specific; slavery was desired to be phased out; it is optional, but desirable, for Muslims to go for animal sacrifice during the Eidul Azha; visiting the tombs of saints for seeking their blessings is an un-Islamic practice; formal prayers etc were meant for all times to come.
Which practice belongs to what category is a question to be decided by the Quranic text. We may disagree on what the text was saying, but we cannot overrule its verdict to suit the considerations of the modern times once its meanings and implications are clear to us.
We submit that the Quranic text be followed diligently because it is the divine text that has come to guide us; we can’t alter it or ignore it to suit our tastes. The fact that it is fully preserved rules out the possibility of human error creeping into it.
Most certainly man has made many improvements in the manner things are conducted in life. All such improvements need to be acknowledged and appreciated. In areas where the outcome of man’s apparent progress conflicts with the will of the Quranic text, it will have to be conceded that human progress has gone beyond its limits.
A good example of divine revelation converging with human progress is that of democracy. The Quran desired that Muslims should decide their affairs through mutual consultation. Modern democracy has come up with a system which promises to achieve exactly what the Quran desired.
However, the quest for human freedom has led man to desire that extra-marital sex be legitimized. The demand has reached such levels that marriages in the same gender are become a norm now. Clearly such changes, even though considered by some as another milestone in human progress, cannot be condoned by religion.
Probably one area where you don’t see eye-to-eye with us is punishments for criminals. Where as you see them barbaric in the modern context, we see them the most appropriate for the kind of crimes they are meant to take care of. We believe that it is more important to worry about getting rid of the crime and to sympathise with those affected by the crime rather than to carry concern in the heart for the criminals.
Three clarifications might also help: The punishments can only be given by Muslim rulers when the reasons for committing crime have first been removed from the society. The punishments mentioned in the Quran are the maximum for the crime. If the criminal deserves relaxation, it can be relaxed. The maximum punishment for adultery is hundred lashes and not stoning to death.
However, if despite this explanation you still disagree with Islamic punishments, let’s agree that there are certain areas where we’ll disagree.