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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Cluedo for the lamenters of Asma Bint Marwan

It appears that a few historians and critics of Islam have yet to understand the value of the Islamic scholarship on history and its transmission through the ages. Islamic historical sources can be divided into three categories.
Seerah (Sira) or the biographies of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). These contain orally transmitted history of the life and times of the Prophet. Ibn Ishaq's Sira is the earliest known record of Holy Prophet's life, but no known transcripts survived. We rely on Ibn Hisham's rendering of Ibn Ishaq's manuscripts for reference.
Hadith and their commentaries. All narrators of these prophetic sayings and incidents from his and his companions' lives are recorded in chronological order before narrating the story or quotation.
Tafseer and other early scholarly works: Early books on Quranic exegesis also contain some historic materials not found on other books.  

It has been well established principle of Islamic scholarship that in the matter of Shariah (laws, do's and dont's) Sira books cannot be relied upon due to the poor transmission of the events from the time of the Prophet. That is why Imam Hanbal, one of the first jurist Imams specifically indicated his mistrust of Ibn Ishaq Sira for deciding on the matters of jurisprudence.
Quran remains the unaltered and unadulterated Word of God in a Muslim's eyes; the source of dispute within Islam is not the words of Quran, but what they mean? And to the more literalistic, Orthodox Sects, these words cannot mean anything more than what the Prophet or his companions or some esteemed Imams have already said.
This not only provides ammunition to the endless ongoing schisms within Islam, but also helps fuel the Islamophobic propaganda by the bigots.
From the most violent Shia-Sunni war to the ridiculous debates on whether God has hands and feet, all disputes are deeply rooted in a bunch of texts which require constant scrutiny and criticism.
I keep hearing and reading about the vengeful killings of some 'esteemed' satirist poets in Medina and Makkah ordered by the Prophet Muhammad.
Tom Holland and Douglas Murray have both mentioned Asma bint Marwan, a Jewish poetess of Medina who lampooned the Prophet and was executed by one of his companions.
The argument goes that Charlie Hebdo attack was not so out of character, considering the founder of Islam himself did not tolerate any satire aimed at him.
But the fact is that what these commentators and scholars consider to be a fact, isn't actually true.
When you read the story of Asma's alleged killing, it becomes clear that this was a poorly fabricated tale. Firstly, this incidence was only reported by Ibn Ishaq and Waqidi in their Sira and not in the more authentic books of Hadith.
One may say that this was a deliberate omission by the Hadith collectors, but then you will find many other Ahadith in their collections which could have been discarded for the same purposes. This is simply not the scholarly tradition of the collectors of Hadith. They tested all narrations based on two criteria.
a. Chain of narrators, which must be continuous and sound.
b. The content of the story. Which must match between different chains of narrators.
Even then, the Hadith scholars would class the narrations as weak, doubtful, reliable, authentic etc., based on their own opinions. Debates on individual hadith reports have raged on ever since; usually it is one of the links in the 'chain' which is found unsound, unreliable, old, suffering from amnesia or just a habitual fabricator. Very few Ahadith have been spared this criticism.
In the presence of such an unforgiving evaluation, most of these sensational stories about magic, jinns, blasphemous poets and poetesses and imagined satanic verses can be proved as fabrications or misheard, misremembered or confused accounts.
Take the tale of Asma bint Marwan. According to the Sira literature she is said to have been killed barely a year and half into Hijrah, by a blind man, in the middle of the night, in her own home.
The blind man was Umair ibn Adiyy according to Ibn Ishaq.
But Al-Qastalani states that according to Ibn Duraid the assassin was called Ghashmir.
Another source Suhaili reveals that she was murdered by her own husband.
Yet Al-Qastalani also opined that she may have been killed by her own people.
But lets for once imagine that it was the blind Umair who killed Asma the poetess with the sword, in her house.
But another historian states that Umair did not kill Asma, but his own sister, Binte Adiyy.
The murdered was blind. The most popular version of the story says that he felt his way into Asma's house, found her, identified her and then plunged a blade into her chest. Or was it his sister? Indeed he was blind.
But so are those who actually believe that this event took place.
OK, say that in the presence of such contradictory stories, one or two mavericks still wish to rely on this story as fact.
Consider this..
It is year 2 After Hijra. Muslims are in a bitter conflict with the Meccans. The battle of Badr has already taken place.  Banu Qanuqa, one of the Jewish tribes of Medina have denounced the treaty with the Muslims and have been expelled.
But why would Muslims start a conflict with their fellow Jewish citizens who remain their allies barely a year into their treaty of Medina. Such murders would certainly have antagonised the proud Jewish tribes and given them a reason to rebel.
We know for a fact that Kaa'b bin Ashraf was executed for treason around the same time. He was a leader Banu Nadir Jews in Medina, but his guilt was so obvious that no one dared to defend him or dispute the decision.
In short, Hadith books do not mention the assassination of Asma or Abu ifak (another alleged satirist), there is no concrete evidence of the event every taking place. All the circumstantial evidence is against it.
And above all, the Prophet of Islam, May peace be upon him, would never have punished those who attacked his character. If you know the man, you will also come to respect and love his nobility, forgiveness and sense of justice.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Charlie Hebdo Terror Attack: Nothing to do with Islam, but something to do with the Imams.

You can read and hear a range of reactions from the public on the Charlie Hebdo terror attack. All sane voices, Muslims and others have condemned it.
Muslims will say that this is a terrible atrocity. Some will use it as yet another proof that ISIS and Al-Qaeda have nothing to do with Islam.
Our moderate leaders and organizations will condemn it as an attack on free speech. Most of them will also say that this has nothing to do with Islam. Far-right groups, religious bigots and populist columnists will blame Islam, Muslims and Immigration policies for the attack.
And then there are two groups which will use this as another ‘told you so’ moment to further their agenda of hatred and intolerance.
On one hand, we have the perpetrators of the attack and their supporters, who believe that their religion justifies such violence. They would say that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists had crossed all bounds when they mocked the Prophet of Islam and their religion in such derogatory cartoons over the years. They had it coming.
The other group, the militant atheists will say that all religion including Islam are backward and superstitious. Their pontiff-in-chief Richard Dawkins says that not all religions are violent, only Islam is. And yes, Charlie Hebdo and their likes had it coming because our society is too scared to insult or ban Islam.
Blame the religion of course. How logical! 
I am going through the back catalogue Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon covers. I never saw one of them before, and do not wish to be subjected to such vulgarity again. It is a veritable collection of cheap humour masquerading as journalism. Graffiti has a place in human history, but it belongs to the doors and walls of public toilets, not on your local news stand.
Why would anyone need to insult a religion is beyond me. But if they want to do so, I would rather be reading, viewing or listening to something less offensive.
But there are those who are compelled to mock and ridicule the ideas they don’t like. 
You can mock politicians for their behavior or policies. You can ridicule a celebrity for the latest fad they are into. Or you can make poignant observations through the medium of cartoons to draw your viewer’s attention to a controversial subject. And there are no limits to what you want to express. From the sublime to the blasphemous, you can do what you like. As a viewer or a reader, I can choose not to read or view such works. As a Muslim, this is what Quran tells me to do.
I will be very curious to learn the views of certain Imams of mosques of various denominations in the UK on this subject. I suspect that a majority of them would rather not express themselves honestly in the media. The truth is very uncomfortable to both these Imams and those politicians who go to them begging for votes every election season.
Most orthodox Muslim scholars do support very draconian punishments for the act of blasphemy. 
This has to change. Quran does not consider blasphemy as a crime. It is a sin of course, the punishment of which if not repented, will be in the afterlife.
But if you look at certain interpretations of some well-known scholars, and you will be surprised that their opinions contradict the Quran.
Mufti Obaidullah Qasmi of Darul Uloom Deoband  writes
‘The death punishment assigned for blasphemy is agreed by all Islamic scholars of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’ah and, is normally covered in Kitabul Hudud in Islamic juridical texts’.
Deoband school of though is followed by a large number of Muslims from the Indian sub-continent.
The more ‘moderate’ Barelvi sect which makes up a large proportion of the Immigrant Pakistani Diaspora in Britain is no different.
Sadanand Dhume of the Wallstreet Journal observes in a recent news report
‘ Clerics from Pakistan’s majority Barelvi stream of Islam—widely regarded as more tolerant than the rival Deobandi school associated with the Taliban—are among the loudest defenders of the country’s blasphemy laws.’
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws condemn the accused to death by hanging.
Same is true for the wide range of Sunni and Shia sects which have sway over the Muslim world.
Such interpretations of Quran which ignore its actual content but rely on the various medieval interpretations imposed upon it through the centuries have to be rejected. Ahmadiyya Muslim movement has denounced such notions of violence in the name of religion for many decades now. And it is heartening to see more and more Muslims coming closer to our way of understanding the Quran.
I am happy that our Muslim friends will stand up and condemn this horrendous and murderous attack, but please also ask the Imams and clerics in your mosques to denounce the ideas of punishments for blasphemy and apostasy in their Friday sermons.
For Muslims, this is another opportunity to think and question their faith leaders. This menace and hatred ISIS and Al-Qaeda have manifested in their extreme acts may need to be rooted out form their own mosques and homes first.


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