A selective reading of the Quran is not only limited to Muslims, but is also widely used by critics of Islam
I write this as a response to an article written by Anand Ranganathan in relation to a recent incident where a wife of Muslim cricketer was hounded by conservative Muslims for publishing a picture on social media while dressed in “unIslamic clothing”.
The argument made by Ranganathan is this: Those who trolled Mohammad Shami for posting a picture with his wife are Good Muslims because they were only “following the orders of the Quran”. Those Muslims who confronted the trolls were Bad Muslims because they were going against the prescriptions of the Quran. Ranganathan goes ahead and posts few verses from the Quran that prescribe a modest dress code for believing women. Ranganathan accuses the liberal Muslim of either trying to hide the “bad verses” from the Quran or trying to hide behind the excuse of bad interpretation when there is not much room for interpreting an obvious verse in a different way.
I broadly agree with Ranganathan that liberal Muslims try to misrepresent Quranic teachings or try their best to fit it into the morality prescribed by the liberal world view. It does not stop there, a liberal Muslim is so protective of his hypocrisy that anyone confronting his world view with the more obvious interpretation of the Quran will be quickly declared an Islamist, literalist or an Islamophobe depending on the situation. On this count, Ranganathan has rightly called out the duplicity and hypocrisy of the liberal Muslim. More on this in the closing section.
Selective reading of the Quran is not limited to liberals. Even the most conservative Muslims have used this technique to present their world view as the Quranic world view. For example the concept of abrogation of Quranic verses is well established among traditionalists. Other Muslims disagree.
And selective reading of the Quran is not only limited to Muslims, it is widely used by critics of Islam including Ranganathan. While Quran prescribes a modest dress code for believing men and women, it also warns against public shaming of individuals.
Those who love (to see) scandal published broadcast among the Believers, will have a grievous Penalty in this life and in the Hereafter: Allah knows, and ye know not. (Quran 24:19)
If a reasonable person like Ranganathan reads the Quran in its entirety, as per his own prescription, he will come to a conclusion that public shaming of individuals as done to Shami and his wife goes against the prescription of the Quran.
However, Ranganathan is absolutely right when he points to the fact that a modest dress code is prescribed by the Quran itself. Liberal Muslims should accept this fact instead of trying to give it a liberal spin.
The second important point made by Ranganathan is rather curious. He argues that for Islam to survive it needs the cushioning of the liberal Muslim (Bad Muslim) who shields Islam from condemnation by misrepresenting Islam as a liberal religion.
Islam is one of the most successful ideologies in the world. Western condemnation of Islam is not recent. The criticism of Islam is as old as Islam itself. Today, every fourth person in the world identifies as a Muslim. By 2050, some estimates say that every third person in the world would identify as a Muslim. No Muslim society has witnessed any major exodus of Muslims from Islam. A religion that survived Mongol invasions, Communist-era bans, Kemalism and the uninterrupted Western and Liberal obsession would need the cover of some hypocrites to guarantee its survival?
Islam is an independent ecosystem which is likely to survive irrespective of what liberals think about it. If history is anything to go by, then Islam will outlast liberalism itself. Turkey is a good example. Kemalism is dead. This idea that survival of Islam relies on the craftiness of hypocrite liberal Muslims is rather amusing to say the least.
That said, the argument about Islam’s resilience is not an argument for Islam being the truth; rather it is just an argument about its resilience. It is what it is.
Going further, Ranganathan presents Zakir Naik as the true Muslim who makes liberal Muslims uncomfortable because he honestly presents Islam as it is. Let us examine this argument. Naik has argued against Instant triple talaq and he has argued for mosque entry for women. Ironically, Naik is arguing for many things that liberals argue for. Like any other Muslim, sometimes Naik gets it right, sometimes he gets it wrong. Even Ranganathan got it wrong when he claimed that stoning is punishment prescribed in the Quran.
There is not a single verse in the Quran that prescribes stoning as a punishment for anything. Yet Naik argued in favour of the punishment. There is not a single verse in the Quran that prescribes death penalty for apostasy. Yet Naik once argued for it (later, he corrected his view).
I am not entirely sure why Ranganathan presented Zakir Naik as the example of the “good Muslim”. If following the Quran makes one a good Muslim as Ranganathan argues, then Zakir Naik says is irrelevant because the scale of goodness or badness of a Muslim is the Quran.
Ranganathan has pointed to the severe punishment prescribed in the Quran for cheating on the spouse. Modern India has punishment of adultery enshrined in the law. There are at least sixteen states in the United States of America where you can land in jail for cheating on your spouse. Even from the liberal perspective, cheating on one’s spouse cannot be prescribed as a good value. But should there be severe punishment for cheating on the spouse? The societies that put a high premium on the value of family structure would say yes; the societies that do not put a high value on family structure would say no.
The moral scale of a society varies all across the world. That said, you will rarely hear of a Muslim man or a woman getting lashes for adultery. Either Muslims make very loyal partners due to fear of punishment or this punishment is not very common. I can’t say for sure.
From the point of view of the liberal Sharia, Ranganathan is right in criticizing a severe punishment for adultery as a liberal society does not put a very high premium on family structure. A liberal society favours individualism over group values.
From what I understood after reading a rather confusing last part of the article, a good Muslim is in fact a bad human being. Because a good Muslim lacks empathy, kindness, remorse and reconciliation. This is strange because all the verses of the Quran (except one) start with the declaration of compassion and mercy as Godly qualities. There are many verses in the Quran that declare forgiveness as a godly quality. The Quran says that forgiveness is better than retribution. It emphasizes on the need to be patient. As per the Quran, only remorse and repentance from bad deeds can get your sins forgiven. And then there is a special emphasis on kindness. In fact, to be kind is the called true righteousness. More than any ritual, Quran says that it is important to be kind.
It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces Towards east or West; but it is righteousness- to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice regular charity; to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the Allah fearing – 2:177
Charity is one of the fundamental pillars of Islam. So I don’t quite understand how a good Muslim would necessarily be a bad human being. Yes there are parts of the Quran that will be extremely troubling for a liberal. Islam is not a pacifist religion. In certain narrow conditions, it prescribes war and violence. In other conditions it prescribes tolerance, compassion and equity with non-believers. Islam also leans towards patriarchy, another fact that would be very troubling for a liberal.
It is also not necessary for Muslims to follow every harsh diktat mentioned in the Quran. It does not make them a bad Muslims. For example, millions of Hindus have worked in Muslim countries over several decades and none of them were charged jizya (a tax that is supposed to be levied by Islamic states on non-Muslim subjects who live in Muslim lands under Islamic law). Forget about jizya, they were not even charged taxes that are normally charged in India and Western countries.
Is Islam a good religion or a bad religion is for an individual to decide. I do not believe that Islam is an inherently evil religion or that a follower of Islam can only necessarily be a bad human being.
Ranganathan argues that a liberal Muslim is in fact an Islamophobe who fears Islam and is afraid to discuss Quran in its entirety. I believe that is not the case. A liberal Muslim is more scared of the Liberal Jamaat and its judgemental character than being scared of the Quran.
One could argue that the liberal Jamaat is just as intolerant or dogmatic as the religious Jamaat. Some Muslims find it extremely difficult to be accepted by their liberal peers while being Muslim. These Muslims try their best to force-fit Islam into the liberal world view because if they don’t, their intolerant liberal peers will label them Islamists. As Ranganathan’s article argues, a good Muslim is in fact a bad human being. In such conditions, I would not judge liberal Muslim too harshly because they are just trying to survive in an extremely intolerant society.