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Glorious Example

The prophet of God (PBUH) was the noblest of humans. His conduct was declared by God as the glorious example, and was an embodiment of sympathy, tolerance, justice, humility, magnanimity and many other attributes quite apart from being most notably the truthful (al-Sadiq) and trustworthy (al-Amin).

The fact that he was unanimously accepted as truthful (al-Sadiq) was confirmed at the beginning of his prophetic mission by his sworn enemies too, who acknowledged unanimously that he couldn’t make an untrue claim when he ascended Mount Safa, calling their attention to ask if they would believe him if he claimed that the enemy was preparing to launch an attack on Makkah. Many of the same people became so aggressive that he had to migrate to Madinah, but they still considered him to be so trustworthy that he had with him many of their valuables which, before leaving Makkah, he gave to his cousin, Ali, to be returned.

Khadija, his wife, the person closest to him, confirmed when he received the first revelation that he was an extremely sympathetic person to whom God would not cause any harm. The Qur’an he presented as God’s word preached forgiveness for enemies and he himself demonstrated that attribute like no one else could. He preached and practiced religious tolerance in a way that Jews and Christians were given the freedom to practice their faith in the city-state of Madinah where he literally enjoyed full administrative authority. He declared killing a human being as big a crime as killing all of humanity. He didn’t allow his companions to consider him higher in status than any of the other prophets. He taught them not to doubt the intentions of others even if there were strong reasons to do so. He implemented the dictates of justice on himself and his very close relatives and friends first, before expecting others to be judged by them. The list of moral virtues he preached and practiced at the highest level of expectation is endless.

The Qur’an must be read with deep reflection to understand its meaning.
What we find today in the conduct of the people who claim to be his followers is, however, in many cases completely the opposite of his glorious example. If we trace the causes, we find one reason more than any other: there is an absence of a serious effort to understand the message the prophet of God brought. Instead of critically examining the contents of the Qur’an to find what it is requiring the believer to acknowledge and practice, exceptions apart, Muslims have chosen to emotionally and blindly follow what their elders taught them, primarily from sources outside the Qur’an. The result is that instead of understanding the message of the Qur’an as a coherent narrative, Muslim groups have accepted as their religious understanding messages that are different and in some cases divergent from what others have accepted.

The Qur’an has two sets of rules mentioned side by side which can easily be deciphered through a serious reading of the text. There are rules that were meant for the prophet and the people who received the message of God directly from him and there were others that were universal. The Qur’an is unambiguous in presenting the two sets of rules as distinctly applicable to the immediate addressees and to humanity respectively. However, if the unwitting reader is bent upon considering each and every verse of the Qur’an universally applicable, he is bound to generalise what was meant to be era-specific.

The Qur’an talks about deliberate deniers of truth (Kuffar) worthy of God’s punishment even in this life for rejecting the truth they received directly from the messenger. The result of generalising era-specific verses caused some zealots to search for Kuffar from among non-Muslims as well as, at times, from within Muslims, to take them to task. Without bothering to distinguish between verses meant for all times and those that were describing God’s displeasure against the immediate enemies of His messenger, many Muslims chose to generalise that displeasure to apply to those people who in reality deserved to be sympathised with and properly informed about the message, like the messenger of God did in his prophetic mission.

The way out of this predicament is to teach Islam in a way that the Qur’an is read with deep reflection for understanding its meaning, ensuring that all religious sources outside the Qur’an including the hadith are understood in the light of its text. The Qur’an-centred approach of learning Islam would ensure that the focus of affiliation of faith would shift from sectarian rhetoric to the text of the Qur’an. As a result, Muslims would rely more on the meaning of the book of God instead of hearsay-based information that has not only divided Muslims but also presented a skewed message of the sirah of the prophet, which when it is understood in the light of the Qur’an gives the message of a faith which is enlightening, tolerant, humane, and convincing.

Published in Dawn News, January 04, 2015.