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The Sociological Dynamics of Islamic Doctrine

The sociology of religion has always fascinated, and perplexed, me in several different ways, as Jambi University Islamic I have endeavored to understand the rationalizations of human beings who proclaim that the gods of their particular faiths are, indeed, holy, immortal, and all powerful while, through their doctrines, showing as much imprudence and changability as the most flippant mortal. The means whereby billions of individual humans are zealously persuaded that such variably interpreted scriptures and doctrines of such changeable gods are inspired and true, and that the priests, prophets, clerics, who so differently interpret the scriptures are honorable people, constitute the social dynamics of human religion.

Usually, the standardization of a particular religion’s ritualism and doctrine and can be understood by an appeal to the cannon of scripture serving as the religion’s substrate. Christianity is such a religion if its understanding is derived purely, and directly, from the New Testament of the Holy Bible, and not from Roman Catholic Papal Bulls, the Apocrypha, and the various disciplines created by the many sects proclaiming changes in, or interpretation of, the New Testament. For instance, if one hundred individual human beings, from a hundred nations around the world, all proclaiming to be Christian, were lined-up and asked what basic principles Jesus taught in his biblical Sermon on the Mount (generally considered to be the basic tenents of Christianity), all of the people questioned will say basically the same thing.

A particular religion, however, that cannot be standardized in all nations around the world, according to its cannon of scripture, the Koran, is Islam. If you ask one hundred Muslims, from around the world, if the law of abrogation in the Koran is the proper word of Allah, the Islamic deity, you will get a variety of surprisingly different responses. The reason for this is a basic confusion about the Koran. According to most Muslims, the Koran was not written or edited by any human author. Muslims will say that the Bible is corrupt, even though Moses, of the Old Testament, supposedly received the Ten Commandments directly from the finger of God; and the other prophets and Apostles of the Old and New Testaments wrote down what they received, as revelations, from God. Muslims, however, believe that Mohammed wrote down the Koran as it was dictated from the Angel Gabriel. So, with his mortal ears, Mohammed received the words from Gabriel, which he wrote with his mortal hand into a book known as the Koran. From the picture painted by Islamic historians of the Prophet Mohammed, the man was very mortal and had quite a few serious foibles which made him, and his behaviors, ultimately imperfect, and, perhaps, flawed. So, to say that it was impossible for Mohammed to write down what he personally construed to be the word of God, as dictated by Gabriel, is not correct at all. Compared with the Prophet Moses, of the Bible, who was punished at the end of his life, for one indiscretion, where he didn’t give Jehovah the credit for bringing forth water, Mohammed’s killings and murders, which he committed in the name of Allah, were infinitely more serious but apparently overlooked by deity. In terms of holiness and righteousness, this comparison illustrates the profound difference between Mohammed and the Judeo-Christian prophets he considered Infidels.

Islamic abrogation has been problematic since Mohammed proclaimed the doctrine during the time of the post-Meccan, or Median, period of islamic history. In 2007, the scholar, Johan D. Tangelder, cogently wrote about the serious issues associated with Islamic abrogation:

“Why does the “eternal” and “uncreated” Koran contain changes that only apply to its manifestation on earth? And if the Koran has no chronological order and the Medinan surahs differ from the Meccan ones, how can these changes be explained? These questions are not just for theologians to squabble about; it is highly relevant in view of the spread of radical Islamism. And the issue becomes even more complicated when the doctrine of “abrogation” is taken into account. This is part of the Muslim belief that certain passages of the Koran are abrogated (repealed or abolished) by verses revealed afterward.

“The problem of abrogation lies in two areas. Firstly, the Koran specifically says on the one hand there can be no change in the “Words of Allah” (Surah xx:65), and on the other hand “We substitute one revelation for another” (xvi:101). Secondly, in Kissing Cousins: Christians and Muslims Face to Face, Bill Musk observes: “Potentially contradictory passages of the Koran are often reconciled by means of abrogation or cancellation – the later verse (usually) replacing the former.” He notes that while the process of “revelations” by Gabriel to Muhammad was still going on, it was made clear which verses were being replaced by new revelations. And this process was applied with Koranic approval:”

“None of Our revelations
Do We abrogate
Or cause to be forgotten
But we substitute
Something better or similar:
Knowest thou not that God
Hath power of all things?” (ii:106)

“The commands to fight and to kill in the Koran are considered by Muslims to be among the recitations made very late in the Prophet’s life, at the time when his conquest of Arabia was almost complete. Muslim scholars have inclined to read the peaceful texts as subordinate to the later ones. In other words, Muslims seeking to find a “peaceful message” in the Koran must fight not only the plain meaning of the Koran’s text, but also the course of its history. From the first, Islam was a religion of pillage, violence, and compulsion, which it justified and glorified. The expulsion of Jewish tribes from Medina, the raids against the Meccan caravans, the siege of Vienna later in 1529, and Hamas and Hizbollah today are part of the Islam historical record. There is, therefore, a link between Islamic tradition and the current acts of violence committed by radical Islamics around the world. How does the concept of abrogation work in practice? Peaceful passages in the Koran were considered to be superseded by materials with a warlike tone, especially Surah ix. David S. Powers, professor of near eastern studies at Cornell University, has noted that Muslim scholars such as Ibn Salama (d.1020) claimed the “sword verse” (ix:5), “Slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free” had abrogating power over 124 other verses, including “every other verse in the Koran which commands or implies anything less than a total offensive against the non-believers.” These warlike passages in the Koran encourage Islamists to continue on with their terrorist activities, disavowing the peace passages. Bill Musk rightly argues: “The Islamists make detailed appeal to verses (about killing non-believers for example) that are said to abrogate other verses (about respecting non-Muslims). Why does an eternally existing word need recourse to a doctrine of abrogation? Could it not make up its eternal mind?”

‘Independently of the actual conduct of many Muslims, Islam itself is inherently an unsettling and threatening factor in world politics. But the real threat to Western democracies is their refusal to face reality of radical Islamism. Consequently, interpreting the words of the Koran so that we can get a better understanding of the complexity of Islam is a large challenge. In view of the high stakes in the world today, however, it is a challenge we should take up.”

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