A woman reads the Quran before being ushered into an ambulance in Jaipur. | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint
A woman reads the Quran in Jaipur during the coronavirus lockdown | Photo: Praveen Jain/ThePrint
Text Size:

Absolutely frivolous”, that’s how the Supreme Court termed Waseem Rizvi’s petition to remove 26 verses of the Quran. While dismissing the petition, the Court also imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on the petitioner. Rizvi had alleged that these verses promoted enmity and violence against non-Muslims. 

Waseem Rizvi should have taken his case to where it belonged — the Islamic scholars, both traditional and modern, not the Supreme Court of India — for a reinterpretation, not deletion of the verses. A review of Islamic theology and shaping of a new mode of religious thinking is long overdue among Muslims.

The Quran needs a new meaning, and a new interpretive classicism, to carry forward the achievements of modernity and enlightenment, not a rehashing of antiquated commentaries.

But Waseem Rizvi has been a man in such hurry for political celebrity as not to pause and draft a legally sustainable and intellectually tenable case. So riddled has been his petition with such elementary mistakes as quoting chapters and verses that don’t even exist in the Quran, and building a case on the basis of pedestrian canards, sectarian stereotypes and motivated gossips that it had been really liberal of the Supreme Court to admit it.

That such a petition could be admitted has been a cause of consternation since the Supreme Court adjudicates matters pertaining to the Constitution, not scriptures. If one were to draw on Stephan Jay Gould’s schema of science and religion as Non-Overlapping Magisteria, the Constitution and the Quran — one being a rational human document and another a result of mystical inspiration — exist in their separate domains without impinging on the other.


Also read: Waseem Rizvi: Meet the most ‘anti-Muslim’ Muslim man in India


Consolation, not law

Scriptures don’t change. Their readers do. With changing times and values, new insights are brought into the reading of scriptures, and ever new meanings are discovered in them. Islam’s doctor maximus, Ibn al-Arabi (d. 1240), insisted that every time a Muslim recited a verse from the Quran, it should mean something different to them.

Scriptural interpretation doesn’t seek to revive a mythical utopia. It reinvents the scripture to make it speak to our contemporary predicaments.

All religious scriptures have matters that don’t accord with modern sensibilities. Violence, misogyny and xenophobia are rife in them, yet they are considered sources of numinous elevation and consolation.

Most religious scriptures have once been a source of law. But their communities no longer regard them as such. Scriptures bring them intimations of the transcendent, not the legislation for the contemporary society.

Readers of other religions have stopped deriving law from scriptures and given it an interpretation that accords with contemporary sensibilities by ‘reading down’ the offensive parts. Similarly, Muslims can read modern values into Islam too.

Muslims, however, continue to regard the Quran as the supreme source of law. So, a conflict is created between the laws of the secular State and the idealised Shariah, which gets accentuated on issues such as the treatment of minorities, gender justice and the commitment to democracy and secularism.

Insofar as other communities don’t derive laws from their respective scriptures, don’t claim to be inspired by them in their worldly affairs, and don’t try to restore their utopian past, the anachronistic verses of their religious books are not dug out to make a case against them.

The Quran uses many self-descriptors for itself such as the Recitation, the Book, the Reminder, the Warner, and the Bearer of Glad Tidings, but nowhere does it use an epithet that could remotely be considered an equivalent of law.

The Quran, in its own words, is free from discrepancies (4:82, 39:23). But the reductionism involved in extracting laws for everyday life was bound to throw up myriad contradictions given the multitudinous diversity of human affairs.


Also read: Islam’s crisis doesn’t need Reformation. It calls for relocation


Revelation and abrogation

The Fuqaha (Islamic jurists) were not equal to the spiritual and mystical dimensions of the Quran. Instead of reconciling these contradictions in the spirit of Coincidentia Oppositorum (the unity of opposites), they took an easy recourse to voiding those verses that didn’t fit in their juristic model. This methodology is known as Naskh (Abrogation), wherein one verse overrides another, effectively rendering it juristically and normatively redundant without actually expunging it.

sunnat, an hadees, or the ijma (consensus of Islamic jurists) is also employed for reading down verses that don’t cohere with their jurisprudence. The famous jurist and exegete, Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 1201), named no less than 247 abrogated verses. On the lower side of the scale, Shah Waliullah of Delhi (d. 1762) kept the number to a meagre five. Naskh is the domain of Islamic theologians and jurists. The court of law of a secular State – such as the Supreme Court of India – is not the right forum for it.

Another hermeneutic and methodological tool of Islamic jurisprudence, theology and Quranic commentary is the concept of Sabab Nazul – the occasion or the context of the revelation of a particular verse. Besides shedding light on the historicity of a verse, it also weighs the rationale for its trans-contextual extrapolation. Thus, if a particular verse, such as the Sword Verse (9:5), could be understood only in its immediate context of revelation, its relevance would be purely historical and academic, not prescriptive and emulative.


Also read: Indian madrasas are thought-influencers. Their funding, modernisation should be priority


Mainstreaming Islam

The Quran is a book of some bulk consisting of as many as 6,236 verses. A few of them are taken out of their historical and textual context — in isolation from the preceding and succeeding verses — to impute malice to it. The blame for this disingenuous method, however, has to be placed on the shoulders of the conventional interpretive style that has been thriving on random quotation of a verse, or a part of it, to clinch an argument. Such has been the validity of this tradition that the ideological superstructure of the political Islam has been built — without this methodology being brought into question — with no more than 10-15 verses culled arbitrarily from here and there. So much so that the phrase, aqeem us-salat, whose standard translation is, “be constant in prayers”, was interpreted to mean a mandate for the establishment of an Islamic state. Such instrumental use of the Quran makes it vulnerable to a similar misuse by its detractors.

Till the time violence and obscurantism keep deriving legitimacy from the Quran and its classical interpretations, Islam will remain exposed to calumny. Mainstreaming a modern mode of Islamic thinking, an advance over the modern principles of liberty and justice, is an ineluctable exigency.

Najmul Hoda is an IPS officer. Views are personal.

(Edited by Neera Majumdar)

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

VIEW COMMENTS

28 COMMENTS

  1. The concern of the author are genuine. Probably, Islamic Scholars can interpret the Holy Quran the right way ! In Kashmir during my youth, I never found any Moulvi or Islamic Scholar talk about conversions or killings. Of course, things did change later after some Moulvis were imported into Kashmir in late 1980s.
    May be the translations available in the market place are distorted. But, not addressing this issue is posing a challenge for the country ,and may be humanity on the whole. Islam is a Religion of Peace, so the translations from verses which allegedly declare non Muslims as Kafirs, who need to be either converted or killed, cannot come from the same Holy Quran, and hence need to be looked into by Islamic scholars. Otherwise there can not be any peace.

  2. ***GREAT WRITE UP BY NAJMUL HUDU***

    Your write-up is one of the best I have seen over the years. I have conducted two workshops on the Quran dealing with some 30 verses supposedly maligned. The story is the same as you have quoted Waseem Rizvi – giving verse and chapter number that does not exist.

    Your last paragraph is powerful – Islam is not to rule anyone, and neither is the Quran to impose on anyone. Quran is the book of guidance to create secure responsible societies where every human is respected for the otherness of the other. And most certainly, the Quran is not for Muslims, and it is a generic book of wisdom for building cohesive societies where every human feels secure about his/her faith, race, ethnicity, culture, and language.

    I am a Muslim today because of the Bhagavad Gita, which guided me to find the truth on my own. I found the fact in the Quran as a manual of pluralism – which talks about freedom, no compulsion, responsibility, accountability, standing up for justice for every human, caring for the weak, poor and respecting the otherness of the other.

    Mike Ghouse is the author of the American Muslim Agenda, and an upcoming book on Quran translation is coming soon. I would certainly like to quote your profound statements.

  3. Najmul Huda,

    Your write-up is one of the best I have seen over the years. I have conducted two workshops on the Quran dealing with some 30 verses supposedly maligned. The story is the same as you have quoted Waseem Rizvi – giving verse and chapter number that does not exist.

    Your last paragraph is powerful – Islam is not to rule anyone, and neither is the Quran to impose on anyone. Quran is the book of guidance to create secure responsible societies where every human is respected for the otherness of the other. And most certainly, the Quran is not for Muslims, and it is a generic book of wisdom for building cohesive societies where every human feels secure about his/her faith, race, ethnicity, culture, and language.

    I am a Muslim today because of the Bhagavad Gita, which guided me to find the truth on my own. I found the fact in the Quran as a manual of pluralism – which talks about freedom, no compulsion, responsibility, accountability, standing up for justice for every human, caring for the weak, poor and respecting the otherness of the other.

    Mike Ghouse is the author of the American Muslim Agenda, and an upcoming book on Quran translation is coming soon. I would certainly like to quote your profound statements.

    I am a Muslim today, because of the Bhagavad Gita, which suggested me to find the truth, and I found the truth in the Quran as a manual of pluralism – which talks about freedom, no compulsion, responsibility, accountability, standing up for justice for every human, caring for the weak, poor and respecting the otherness of the other.

    Mike Ghouse is the author of the American Muslim Agenda and a new book on Quran translation is coming soon.

  4. Why not? If the Supreme Court can decide whether Sanskrit can be allowed in Government Schools (the same Nariman) And how the British made lumpen known today as Hindoo should worship in Nationalized temples belong to diverse religions and cultures (Yes, the same Notorious Nariman in consort with other Notorious Milards such as Chandrachud who found Sabarimala to be ultra vires the US Constituton)? Fear? Moslem scholars dare not commits such apostasy and blasphemy on pain of beheading.

  5. Why not? If the Supreme Court can decide whether Sanskrit can be allowed in Government Schools (the same Nariman) And ho the British made lumpen known today as Hindoo should worship the Nationalized temples belong to diverse religions and cultures (Yes, the same Notorious Nariman in consort with other Notorious Milard such as Chandrachud whof ound Sabarimala to be untra vires the US Constituton)? Fear?

  6. There is a need to teach science.

    To tell people who want to live like 1400 years ago that there are BILLIONS OF GALAXIES and BILLIONS UPON BILLIONS OF PLANETS.

    Then ensure POPULATION CONTROL.

    Or be ready for pakistani style INDIAN TLP.

  7. At least someone is saying something sensible. How many of author’s co-religionists share his views? Is there a fatwa out yet? What does The Print’s resident Hindu baiter, Ms Zainab Sikander, have to say on this very important topic.
    A topic that will decide how much violence and strife the world will have to bear with in coming decades.

  8. All the Muslims who commented here did not touch on the subject of infidels according to their holy book and how to address it. They are all parroting whatever the book says is the ultimate word. So they must be believing in the word which is death or convert infidels. I wonder why India became secular in this context with leftist and msm media supporting blindly these hardcore believers, Hindu days are numbered in the country, like we see in Pakistan .

  9. I once saw an interview of Ayaan Hirsi Ali where she said that in the original verses in Arabic, it was said that a martyr would get 72 “raisins” and not 72 “virgins”.

    Wonder if there’s a way to verify what she said.

  10. Why? When the same SC can interfere in the Hindu traditions, why can’t it look into wrong teaching? We are a secular country, no special treatment for any religion. We are all equal in the eyes of law.

  11. It is quite simple really. Any religious teaching- repeat- any religious teaching – that is against Constitutional principles should be done away with. Not sure why that’s so hard for people to understand.

  12. Well the muslim liberals (if there is such a thing) have failed the religion. There is hardly any action from them except when others criticize the religion. Cannot keep on blaming others for their own problem.

  13. Good decision by court
    People and communities need tobe more responsible and take owner ship
    Pushing everything on SC wherever leaders cannot enrol others cannot be a way of Life.

    All holy books were written in particular age. Rituals were added by followers as per their interpretation. As per constitution one is free to follow or even propagate and court can only uphold that right.

  14. Editorial team chose to use the word ‘review’ in the title but the write up is talking about ‘reinterpret’. Hope ThePrint is not stooping down to sensational titling.

    Secondly a retired police officer is a bad choice to deal with a sensitive subject like this.

    The author’s understanding of, how religions influence humans and how communities see their scriptures, is feeble and he gave it out in “Readers of other religions have stopped deriving law from scriptures”. “The Quran needs a new meaning” speaks volumes of his logical reasoning. A scripture needs nothing from humans. It is there to benefit you. Take it or leave it. You can say, “the secularists need to sell a new meaning of Qur’an to the Muslim community”.

    What the author fails to understand is, Vedas and Gita don’t give law. They cover spiritual and ritual aspects. The Old Testament of The Bible has law but it’s been abrogated by the crucifixion according to St Paul. So, no major community derived their law from their Divine Revelations. But the Qur’an is very clear in listing down laws which cover criminal law, civil law, human rights, women’s rights and so on. Simply saying, ‘others are not taking laws from their Divine Revelations’ hence you are the odd one, is ignorance, to say the least.

    Seriously, ThePrint will not attract positive vibes by publishing novice opinions on sensitive topics.

    • You yourself have admitted that other communities no longer follow the scriptures as law but as spritual force. This is what is required from Muslims. You can’t follow something written 1400 years back as the world has progressed enormously. Muslims are also using morden gadgets getting scientific education. Girls also wants to study and pursue careers. Most of the islamic countries have abandoned Qur’an system of punishment like cutting hands, stoning etc. Sane elements among muslims don’t want to kill kafirs. These verses are generating terror and Islamophobia. Muslims are at war with all communities. Therefore writer appears to be a progressive muslim and want to have democracy, secularism, human rights, women’s rights in muslim majority countries alsoñ

  15. You should spend your time in khankhas. That will make you understand our Quraan better. Quraan has been and is hidayat for all generations till qiyamat no matter how far the human civilisation changes. I strongly recommend those people who come from nowhere and start putting opinions on Quraan to visit our Maulanas and understand the true meaning behind the verses instead of just reading translations.

  16. Waseem Rizvi is that islamic scholar who has already reviewed Quran and identified problematic verses. Publishing houses should now print the newer version of the religious text.

  17. ”Most religious scriptures have once been a source of law. But their communities no longer regard them as such. Scriptures bring them intimations of the transcendent, not the legislation for the contemporary society.

    Readers of other religions have stopped deriving law from scriptures and given it an interpretation that accords with contemporary sensibilities by ‘reading down’ the offensive parts. Similarly, Muslims can read modern values into Islam too.”

    Summary of the whole article. And I agree with the author. But if all the corrective measures are left to the ulema, nothing will come out of it in the next five thousand years. Triple Talaq would not be banned if the state had to depend on the wise counsel of these ulemas.

    ..

  18. Is review or reinterpretation possible at all in Islam? Prophet Mohammed has been called the Seal of Prophets, and the last Prophet. Any innovation in the construction of Koranic verses or Hadith is considered an offence bordering on apostesy. Every verse and every Hadith is binding on a Muslim, whether they have kept pace with the times or not. Such attitude is one of the reasons for the crisis faced by Islam and Muslims. The writer’s suggestion is unworkable within the Islamic framework. Rizvi had no choice but to go to the Apex Court, though he lost the attempt.

    • Many scholars tried to change quran aayat..but none of them were successfull…Arabs used to say the whole world dumb before Islam, they were so proud of their language…Our nabi was Ummi ( who doesnt no writing and reading) …But when Quran came, they were just helpless, many of them tried to change the aayat of Quran…because while doing it either meaning changes or the beauty of verses…

      Trust me it is not easy, if you arrange 100 of arabic scholars and pay them for an year..than also you wont be able to do it…Because all phrases are said by Allah not by human being..

    • Problem is if every verse & hadith is followed by muslims, world will be moving towards war of civilisations hence, attempts of Rizvi, attempts of Prince Salman and few moderators to incorporate changes suitable for coexistence with other faiths are commendable however futile they may seem. Islam doesn’t recognize democracy rather it believes in Caliphate ie ruthless leader whose dictums must be followed or else instant punishment is delivered. And interestingly, world powers attempts changes to facilitate coexistence thru democratic values is a faulty policy. To prevent any war of civilisations, to facilitate changes in islam, a ruthless leader from within islam must be propagated specifically to enforce such acts with a caution of control over such person.

  19. No other religious community put so much stress on religion as the Muslims do. But their day to day activities are farthest from their religious values.

  20. The author needs to do check on the maulanas & Imams as to what they are teaching their followers in mosques & madrassas. First instance he mentions of reading down the verses as per modern sensibilities has nothing to do with altering Quran but how it is interpreted and that interpretation was symbolic not literal at the height of the Baghdad caliphate golden age of science whereas what is being followed now is rigid literal orthodox interpretation.
    Hence, modern society of mixed religion is frustrated that the muslim community, in its literal interpretation of their scriptures, create new problems and put other religionists in a state of emotional blackmail.
    Second, there is nothing wrong in rewriting the scriptures. The Christians have rewritten their own scriptures and rituals several times. Hindus have done so. Buddhists have done so.
    Third, if the Ulema was willing to do what the supreme court was petitioned to do, who was stopping them. They failed in this duty since decades. Please note that triple talaq action was done by the SC not the Ulema.
    Hence, all the arguments of the author falls flat and clearly showcases his own prejudices by conveniently sidelining what the other Rizvi family is doing in Pakistan in the name of religion & Quran.

  21. One would have thought that a publication so concerned about citizen journalists, would also be concerned about citizen jurists or citizen ulema.
    Becoming an IPS officer neither makes one a religious nor a legal scholar, qualifications that seem to be essential for the subject and content of this article. Perhaps an editorial team more aware of the basic concepts of Islam or law or epistemology would have considered this.
    Perhaps we would have been living in a better world where people spoke/wrote only on things that they had knowledge about.

  22. You still consider yourself Muslim? Repent right now and embrace Islam again by reciting “kalima tayyaba “….you a non-entity like a dust particle , dare to “read down ” verses from the holy Quran…revealed by the Almighty Allah upon his last prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him)…the sole guidance for entire humanity till the universe lasts…and the day of judgment will come

  23. Verses compiled 200 years post conversed one’s demise,says it all.
    Entire Muslim world sits on the pin edge of Quran and hence any alteration shivers the spine of the ‘narratives’ administered till date.
    Well what came amidst will leave amidst.

  24. First time I am hearing a Muslim saying that the Quran needs some kind of new interpretation in the light of the modern world. However, given the extreme illiteracy and non-education of the community, as well as the fear psychosis among the educated, I doubt if more than a handful will join this man. I don’t see much hope for Muslims. They will continue to be a perennial pain the a** for other communities, being neither peaceful themselves nor letting others live in peace.

  25. I HAVE READ HOLY QURAN TRANSLATED IN ENGLISH WITH MEANINGS AND EXPLANATORY NOTES BY MR ABDULLAH YOUSUF ALI AND ANOTHER BRIEF BOOK ON QURAN TRANSLATED BY AN RETD INDIAN ARMY OFFICER MR M.A.K. PATHAN. I FOUND THERE IS NO OVERLAPPING,NOR ANY CONTRADICTION NOR ANY KIND OF DISCREPANCY. THE QURAN IS GIVEN LIKE THAT .ITS VERSES ARE DISPERSED IN OTHER LESSONS.IT REQUIRES GREAT APPLICATION OF MIND TO UNITE THOSE VERSES AND THEIR MEANINGS. MR M.A.K. PATHAN HAS DONE A WONDERFUL JOB IN SYNCRONISING THOSE VERSES. PAST REVELATIONS ARE WRITTEN BY GOD LIKEWISE. ORIGINAL BIBLE IS LIKE THAT. GOD HAS PLACED A TEST BEFORE HUMANS TO FIND OUT WHO UNDERSTANDS HIM AND HIS BOOK FROM THOSE WHO DO NOT. THAT APPEARS TO BE THE EXAM.

Comments are closed.