The topic of this article is intentionally provocative. Despite that provocativeness this article will ask tough and constructive questions. The criticism is aimed at changing the mental perspective of Muslims and orienting this perspective towards a more successful outlook. If Muslims can come to grasp with the truths that will be laid out below, I believe the status, reputation and spiritual strength of all Muslims will see a great rise. I don't mean to be a fault finder but truth is truth. It is only through recognizing our faults and understanding that they are bad that we can begin to make any real progress.
Traditional Islam is just plain old bad. There is no reason why a Muslim should call him or herself a Muslim just because his or her parents, grandparents or entire nation claims Islam. This leads to Muslims who have not thought once, let alone twice, about what they believe and why they believe it. If the only reason you are a Muslim is because your parents, family or culture is considered Islamic then you are not a believer in any sense of the word. The Quran is chock full of examples denouncing this sort of traditional religion. Yes, most of these reproachable traditionalists were idol worshippers in some sort of way, but the moral of the Quran's stories is not only 'don't worship idols'. It is also 'don't follow the tradition of your forefathers blindly.' The prophets of God (Salla Allahu 'Alaihim wa sallam) were showing their people that it was because they followed their cultures and traditions blindly that they were duped into worshipping things that had no power and in many cases were products of human imagination. Point taken?
If you have not really gotten to the bone, the roots, the fundamental foundations and all of the specifics of what you believe then you need to begin your journey now. If that road leads you to rejection of Islam then so be it. Hopefully, it will strengthen not only your faith, but your ability to think, reason, critique and, most importantly, self-critique. The only thing I ask you not to do is to come up with half-baked, unreasonable ideas and use them as a crutch to reject Islam, to do whatever you feel like doing, or to unjstuly attack Muslims in order to gain fame in the Western World. Ayan Hirsi and Irshad Manji come to mind. The former is more malicious than the latter. If you are not familiar with them look them up, read their books (but don't buy the books) and watch a few of their debates and you will understand. Don't know Classical Arabic? Learn it. Don't make excuses. But if you don't know why you do what you do in the name of Islam and you can't get it to concur with all of the Quran, then know that you are doing more harm to yourself and to Islam than good. It is better that you cease, desist and educate yourself. You will be doing God more of a service if you really believe in Him and you know why.
Passing the Buck:
Most of the errors I see in Islam can be directly linked to the above. Everyday Muslims who ask others and themselves signficant questions that need to be answered logically and with scripture end up passing the buck to some scholar who has all the credentials but somehow doesn't know what he's talking about. How arrogant of me, you say. Well, some scholars are genuine and contribute real answers that help to educate everyday Muslims who seek to understand what they believe in and why. In fact, all of Islam's ills can be traced back to people and leaders that are not willing to find solid answers to solid questions. Can suicide be considered a sacrifice for Allah? The Quran is clear. It says "Do not kill yourselves." Is it Quranically legal to kill your enemy by poisoning his drink, a drink you would also have to consume to achieve your goal, thereby killing yourself and your enemy? No. Contrary to that English expression 'The road to Hell is paved with good intentions,' (By the way I hate this expression and the intolerance that it promotes) quranically, intent is everything. In war one's goal is to eliminate the wrongdoer, not the innocent and the righteous. You are to try your best and if you fail may God reward you. But we are never to take even our own innocent lives intentionally in any struggle!
Then there is the problem of the Hadeeth. First come the buzzphrases: Hadeeth rejectors reject the Sunnah i.e. the word of the prophet (Muhammad of course SA'AS), etc. etc. The truth is that Muslims have failed to ask what the Hadeeth really are. They are rumors "verified" by a process that cares more about the reputations of its narrators (many of whom had died long before this verification process began) than its content or how much it is in line with the Quran. With this truth comes the often asked, often dismissed, yet still very important Sunni retort: If you reject hadeeth then you have to reject the Quran as it was preserved in the same way the Hadeeth were.
Quranists usually follow this up with a litany of unproven theories about the early and complete written preservation of the Quran as well as a number of Quranic verses pointing to how extra-Quranic religious authorities are unQuranic. I agree with the last line of reasoning. However, the question still goes unanswered. So what is the response that will keep Quranists from babbling imaginative theories that make them look ignorant? What will help us be able to confront this poignant question?
The first part of the answer is that Quranists should eliminate their disdain for the word sunnah, and just understand that the sunnah of our last prophet is most reliably found in the Quran. Not in any hadeeth. The second part of the answer can be stated in one word: Tawaatur. Quranists don't need to reject hadeeths just because they are hadeeths, and not the Quran. They have to have a real reason because, afterall, rumors can be true! In Surah 24:11-15 and in other places we see how the Quran validates rumors that have 4 or more (eye) witnesses. Tawaatur (or mutawaatir) hadeeth are the only hadeeth that fit this description. A pleasant suprise is that the Quran was preserved in a Tawaatur fashion. Yes, there were texts of the Quran very early on but not only were the textual compilations often scattered and incomplete, early Arabic scripts were severely deficient. Staple letters of the alphabet could not be distinguished from each other.
So what is Tawaatur? Al-Jahiz in his book Fakhrus-sudaani 'alaa al-bidaani: "The Blackman's boast to the Whiteman'' mentions Tawaatur and why only these sorts of Hadeeth can be trusted (This is also a plug for this book which everyone, especially Middle Easterners and anyone of African descent must read). Tawaatur is when 4 or more people have witnessed a saying. In the case of a hadeeth of the last prophet, not only must 4 or more companions have witnessed him saying or doing something but 4 or more witnesses must have witnessed each and every one of those companions say that they heard or saw the last prophet do or say something. The number of narrating witnesses grows exponentionally.
There must never be less than 4 people witnessing any saying or action of another if it is to be considered tawaatur. The Quran was preserved in this manner and as such is mutawaatir. Do we have any hadeeth like this? The only hadeeth that I have come across with a tawaatur status that has even been considered has to do with the last prophet wiping his feet during ablution with socks and without. If that is all the mutawaatir hadeeth our hadeeth scholars could scrounge up, well . . .enough said. Ahadi hadeeth which have just one narrator somewhere or everywhere in the chain are Quranically unacceptable. Hadeeth with less than 4 narrators somewhere or everywhere in the chain are Quranically unacceptable as well. The only loophole to this would be if a spouse narrates a saying about his or her spouse. If the other spouse denies it or contradicts the narration then no story is to be taken.
That leads us to the Sirah, or the life story of the last prophet. As much as I respect Dr. Subhi for his role in leading and supporting Quranists everywhere, not even he has been able to give a satisfactory answer concerning this issue. Our tradtional story comes from an Islamic figure named Ibn Ishaaq. The interesting thing is that there are no isnaads (mutwaatir or non-mutawaatir) and it would seem that we are taking his work, based on rumor, on his word alone. Perhaps he does cite 4 or more eyewtinesses, or stories from spouses of eyewitnesses as it concerns certain aspects of the sirah. In that case we can redeem his work in someway. Nonetheless, until we find out, we shoud do as the Quran suggests to us and not "follow in the footsteps of what" we "do not understand."
Lastly, I'd like to mention the myth that the Quran is somehow word for word the same book that God revealed to our last prophet. There are about 10 different Qira'at (readings) of the Quran. Their words do differ and the diacritics (dots) are different. We need to stop allowing Muslims to believe this myth about the absolute perfection of the Quran's preservation. What we need to teach, instead of the 7 ahruf story, is that Classical Arabic dialects of the last prophet's day had different modes of pronunciation concerning certain letters and combinations of letters. The ommission of the hamza in nabi'un that allows it to be said and written as nabiyyun is a perfect example of this. In studying the different Qira'at, the pronunciations employed in tajweed and anomolies within the Quranic text we can understand Classical Arabic better.
We should realize that the different voweling and occasional complete difference of words between the Qira'aat shows that people did make mistakes in their efforst to preserve the Quran. What is still amazing is that every single last Qira'at when compared together share a common meaning! These differences amount to less than 3 percent of the entire book, yet where the differences appear there is a complete consensus between the readings in meaning. Knowing this can also serve as a tool to help us with seemingly ambiguious or akward passages. Let's stop passing the buck and take some responsiblity. When we, as Muslims, pass the buck we open ourselves up to be seduced by lies and falsities of all kinds.
Islam is not answering the needs of the people:
First and foremost people need progressive and voluntary organization. Instead of fake Islamic governments or oppressive islamic governments that promote corrupt religious establishments that seek to control the minds of people and think that everyone can be made to conform to the ways of some particular form of Islam, we need voluntary organization with a Quran-centered premise that not only fulfills people's needs to belong but also acts a a channel to express their potential in a free-society. Bottom-line, groups get things done. And groups with an agenda get more things done.
Independence is the key. Dependency is the basic component in an equation that ends in poverty and exploitation. High levels of independence as it concerns food, transportation, shelter, water etc. is what has ensured the success and freedom of any people. The more efficent any community is at meeting these needs the more they can ensure both a quality and free life for themselves. They can even outsource in order to bring wealth into their community. I see this agenda in the Quran and even from a Classical Arabic perspective. Richness is Ghinaa' in Arabic and it really means independence. We see this in phrases like maa aghnaa 'ankum maalukum. Aghnaa here means to 'free up, to make independent.' The Quran employs this word usually in denouncement of people who somehow think that they are independent of God. Istighnaa' is a word found in the Quran that illustrates a feeling of superiority because you do not need others and are indepedent, free and not accountable to anyone. The Quran attacks the feeling some of us have that we are independent of and not accountable to God. The word literally means 'to deem oneself rich.'
So what is real wealth and real success? It is independence from others, and a complete lack of having to depend on others to survive or thrive. We all depend on Allah but we as believers in the Quran should see that the real way to become successful and to help others become successful is to break the chains of dependency and to become patrons and protectors (Awliyaa') of each other. Take for instance the word 'Maal'. It means wealth and money but its most original meaning is 'cattle.' Why? Because you can have all of the gold you want but you still need someone to value that gold and trade with you to live. If you have cattle, God's green earth and of course God's blessings (which he even bestows on the wretched who deny him) you have meat, milk and even skins for shelter. You can't eat, drink or clothe yourself in gold. Remember, richness from a Classical Arabic perspective equals the ability to be independent of others. And poverty? You guessed it! Dependency. We see in the Quran 'Lord, of any favor you can give me I am in need.' The Arabic for 'in need' here is Faqeerun. The word is usually used for being poor.
The poor are usually more dependent on others to survive than the rich. We see this reality reflected in the Classical Arabic linguistic perspective. In this aspect the reality of then is still the reality of today, despite what the perpetuators of our consumer societies would like you to believe. If your livelihood depends on your servitude to strangers in order to pay for your food and shelter that also belong to strangers then you are really not rich. You are poor, even if you think you are living well. You are a needy person who needs to be exploited by others in order to survive. Slaves have lived well and have been horribly exploited. But a slave is a slave, no matter how well he lives. We should seek to only be dependent on Allah! And, if need be, on our faithful brethren.
To reiterate and further clarify, as followers of the Quran we need to understand that organization that allows us to manifest our wills as servants of God through the Quran is necessary. We also need to understand that if we really want to address our needs and the needs of others we need to focus on becoming independent of the chains that bind us. In particular, the economic chains. The Islamic organization that came closest to this Quranic agenda was the Nation of Islam under Elijah Muhammad. Admittedly, the Nation of Islam is a fringe group that borders on being unislamic considering its creed and some of its religious beliefs only. However, they understood that the growth of a community through the ideas of doing for self, becoming as independent as possible and almost exclusive mutual patronage is what guarantees success to that community.
Today there are many basic, yet novel, technologies being used in the U.S., Africa, Asia and the Indian subcontinent that would benefit us and help us along in this goal. For energy needs we can look to Biodigestors, Woodgasifiers, solar energy,hybridization of vehicles, wind and seawater hydrogen technologies. For sustainable housing there is superadobe, strawbale technology, rammed earth and more. For infrastructure and food independence we can look to sanddamns, cisterns, swales, biodynamic sustainable organic agriculture/gardening, permaculture techniques and coastal salt-water farms.
Unfortunately, Muslims are caught up in trying to regain the golden days of the unquranic "Islamic"empires of the past, and busy imitating every aspect of Western Judeo-Christian Eurocentric societies that they can. Islamic empires had their highlights only when leadership focused on a deep interest in the pursuit of knowledege about God's creation, with an aim to seek God's favors and blessings, understand the workings of his creation and cede to the superiority of God's methods. These periods were very short in Islamic history but when the leadership allowed for the pursuit of knowledge from all circles with the above ideas in mind the beneftis were manifold.
Understanding all of these issues and addressing them we will kill many birds with one stone. We will build ourselves up as an influential community with our best interests in mind. This growth and success will give us more potential to influence the world and others, shedding a more than positive light on what the agenda of a Quranically centered people is. By breaking these chains of dependency we will not only free ourselves but we will free others. Freeing the bondman is one of the basic and most emphasized messages in the Quran. The way in which we achieve this will be da'wah for the Quran in and of itself. By allowing ourselves to become more efficent at promoting and fullfiling the Quran's agenda we ensure ourselves good in this life and the next.