Text Size:A- A+
Absolutely frivolous, thats how the Supreme Court termed Waseem Rizvispetitionto remove26versesoftheQuran. While dismissing the petition,the Court also imposed a fineof Rs50,000 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.
TheQuranneeds 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 pauseanddraft a legally sustainable and intellectually tenable case. So riddled has been his petition with such elementary mistakes as quoting chapters and versesthatdont even exist in theQuran, 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 Goulds schema of science and religion asNon-OverlappingMagisteria, the Constitution and theQuran 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
Scriptures dont 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. Islams doctor maximus,Ibn al-Arabi(d. 1240), insisted that every time a Muslim recited a verse from theQuran, it should mean something different tothem.
Scriptural interpretation doesnt seek to revive a mythical utopia.It reinventsthe scripture to make it speak to our contemporary predicaments.
All religious scriptureshave mattersthatdont 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 scripturesand given it an interpretationthataccordswith contemporary sensibilities by reading down the offensive parts. Similarly,Muslims can read modern values into Islam too.
Muslims, however, continue to regard theQuranas the supreme source of law.So,a conflict is created between the laws of the secularState and the idealised Shariah, which gets accentuated on issuessuchas the treatment of minorities, gender justice and the commitment to democracy and secularism.
Insofar as other communities dont derive laws from their respective scriptures, dont claim to be inspired by them in their worldly affairs, and dont try to restore their utopian past, the anachronistic verses of their religious books are not dug out to make a case against them.
TheQuranuses 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 epithetthatcould remotely be considered an equivalent of law.
TheQuran, 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: Islams crisis doesnt need Reformation. It calls for relocation
The Fuqaha (Islamic jurists) were not equal to the spiritual and mystical dimensions of theQuran. Instead of reconciling these contradictions in the spirit of Coincidentia Oppositorum(the unity of opposites),they took an easy recourse to voiding those versesthatdidnt fit in their juristic model. This methodology is known asNaskh(Abrogation), wherein one verse overrides another, effectively rendering it juristically and normatively redundant without actually expunging it.
Asunnat, anhadees, or theijma(consensus of Islamic jurists) is also employed forreading downversesthatdont 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.Naskhis the domain of Islamic theologians and jurists. The court of law of a secularState 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 ofSabab 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 theSword 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
TheQuranis 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 stylethathas 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 ofanIslamic state. Such instrumental use of theQuranmakes it vulnerable to a similar misuse by its detractors.
Till the time violence and obscurantism keep deriving legitimacy from theQuranand 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
- David Byrnes American Utopia Finds Home On Broadway For September Return - Deadline - June 18th, 2021
- Utopia? Echoes of Delphi and Dreamweaver in new visual editor for React - The Register - June 18th, 2021
- Coventry and its cathedral: the rise and fall of an urban utopia - TheArticle - June 18th, 2021
- 'When Evening Has Passed and Tomorrow Comes' Exhibition Inspires and Reflects Utopia - Daily Utah Chronicle - June 18th, 2021
- Cupcakes and cannoli at Richfield's newest bakery at the Hub - Minneapolis Star Tribune - June 18th, 2021
- Can Science Survive the Death of the Universe? - Scientific American - June 18th, 2021
- How To Tell If Your New Flatmate Is A Menace To Society Before They Move In - Pedestrian TV - June 18th, 2021
- This Dispenary Is Part Funhouse, Part Diner, and All Trippy - Green Entrepreneur - June 18th, 2021
- Bill Nemitz: Neo-Nazis moving to northern Maine? Say it ain't so - Press Herald - June 18th, 2021
- The Liverpool Biennial's Blinkered Approach to Feminist Art - frieze.com - June 18th, 2021
- Sims 4 is introducing cottagecore to the game with a new expansion pack - The A.V. Club - June 18th, 2021
- The Collective Alice, or, on Fear, Death, Multitudes, and Pain - E-Flux - June 18th, 2021
- How woke mayoral candidates want to NYC into Communist ... - May 27th, 2021
- Magma (comics) - Wikipedia - May 27th, 2021
- Winnie the Pooh musical headed to off-Broadway stage - Chicago Sun-Times - May 27th, 2021
- Netflix's Utopia, TVNZ's In the Long Run among great shows to stream this weekend - Stuff.co.nz - May 27th, 2021
- Insight - This bitcoin chaos will blow up your cyberpunk utopia - The Star Online - May 27th, 2021
- Austin is a 'utopia': Mayor Steve Adler talks homelessness and city growth on Joe Rogan podcast - Austonia - May 27th, 2021
- China's Zhurong Mars rover rolls onto the Martian surface (photos) - Space.com - May 27th, 2021
- Brave new virtual world: The Startup Wife, by Tahmima Anam, reviewed - Spectator.co.uk - May 27th, 2021
- Not Bitcoin. This will be the future of money - Mint - May 27th, 2021
- David Byrne on a lifetime of innovation and finding American Utopia - The FADER - May 27th, 2021
- 'Hadestown' jumps ahead of pack to welcome Broadway patrons - The Independent - May 27th, 2021
- Photo essay: What these artists and activists want you to know about their L.A. - Los Angeles Times - May 27th, 2021
- The Cut Podcast: The Other Side of Optimism - The Cut - May 27th, 2021
- Animation, storytelling, music and 5D events the main avenues of startup Moti towards our inner utopia CEO - Macau Business - May 27th, 2021
- Melissa Etheridge, LANY top this weeks online concert picks - cleveland.com - May 27th, 2021
- Hear every song mentioned in David Byrnes episode of The FADER Uncovered - The FADER - May 27th, 2021
- Africans, we should all be Pan-Africanists - The New Times - May 27th, 2021
- More Ways To Hit The Trails For Bike Month 2021 - WVXU - May 27th, 2021
- Rise of the creator crypto economy is way of future - Fast Company - May 27th, 2021
- The Child Soldiers of Portland - City Journal - May 27th, 2021
- With campus co-operatives, universities could model new ways of living after COVID-19 - The Conversation CA - May 27th, 2021
- Plastic waste-to-energy tech is being unrolled in Hungary and Greece - Power Technology - May 11th, 2021
- Powerhouse's waste-to-hydrogen technology to roll out in Greece and Hungary - H2 View - May 11th, 2021
- China's Tianwen-1 mission getting set to try and land Zhurong rover on Mars - ABC News - May 11th, 2021
- Letter: 'Origins of wokeness/critical race theory (CRT)' - Brown County Democrat - May 11th, 2021
- Where is Everybody? Are Big Incentives the Only Way to Attract Good Workers Post-Covid? - CEOWORLD magazine - May 11th, 2021
- HBO Max & Utopia Pick Up Sundance Coming-Of-Age Horror Were All Going To The Worlds Fair - Deadline - May 9th, 2021
- Farewell the utopian city. To cope with climate change we must learn from how nature adapts - The Conversation AU - May 9th, 2021
- A critique: Where Marx (1818-1883) was right and why he was wrong on the demise of capitalism - National Herald - May 9th, 2021
- Autonomous Vehicles Aren't the FuturePublic Transportation Is - The New Republic - May 9th, 2021
- Coldplay Says There 'Won't Not Be' A New Album On The Way - UPROXX - May 9th, 2021
- League of Legends Arcane, Riots new animated show, coming to Netflix - Polygon - May 9th, 2021
- Miranda Lamberts The Marfa Tapes tops this weeks new releases - cleveland.com - May 9th, 2021
- Frieze New York is kicking off: heres what not to miss - Wallpaper* - May 9th, 2021
- Masks on, or hands off the library - Bonner County Daily Bee - May 9th, 2021
- Bath Mats Market to Enjoy 'Explosive Growth' by 2025 The Shotcaller - The Shotcaller - May 9th, 2021
- Broadway re-opening dates: Here's the latest updates on shows' returns - Asbury Park Press - May 9th, 2021
- COLUMN: Politics and markets - St. Albert Today - May 9th, 2021
- Down to earth: how escaping to the country isnt always what it seems - The Guardian - May 9th, 2021
- The pro-life movement has much to celebrate this Mother's Day - Washington Examiner - May 9th, 2021
- Malaysia in dystopia while seeking the Utopian dream - Free Malaysia Today - May 9th, 2021
- Van Herk: Is defiance of authority embedded in the DNA of Albertans? - Calgary Herald - May 9th, 2021
- Features | In Conversation | Modular Therapy: Daniel Miller And Steve Davis In Conversation - The Quietus - May 9th, 2021
- Silver coins unearthed in New England may be loot from one of the 'greatest crimes in history' - Livescience.com - April 25th, 2021
- Revolutionaries and their shadowy networks come alive in Tim Harpers new book - The Indian Express - April 25th, 2021
- A New Front in the Fight for Reproductive Rights - Global Press Journal - April 25th, 2021
- China invokes mythic god of war and fire for its Mars rover name - New York Post - April 25th, 2021
- Before the Oscars On Sunday Check Out This Top 10 List - KPBS - April 25th, 2021
- Where Every Coupling Depends on Lies, and Men Are Aliens - The New York Times - April 21st, 2021
- Sun Ra's Chicago: Afrofuturism And The City - Jazz Journal - April 21st, 2021
- Offspring's first new album in nine years, 5 Things to Know - The Oakland Press - April 21st, 2021
- Broadway Baby: Michael Kors on 50 Years of Opening Nights, Diva Crushes and a Dream Revival - WWD - April 21st, 2021
- '60 Songs That Explain the '90s': How Bjrk Became a Genre Unto Herself - The Ringer - April 21st, 2021
- TODAY in SUPES: Cautious Optimism on Local COVID Conditions, Plus the Latest Measure Z Awards and a Bracing Dose of Pension Funding Policy Talk - Lost... - April 21st, 2021
- A New Try With UBI: As Wrongheaded As Before - Forbes - April 21st, 2021
- Brexit uncertainty and inconsistency means UK-EU food trade is still in limbo - The Grocer - April 21st, 2021
- 17.04.2129.05.21, Cape Town | Art of Everyday Things - ZAM - ZAM Magazine - April 21st, 2021
- Local events planned in honor of Earth Day - goskagit.com - April 21st, 2021
- San Franciscans still live in 1906 earthquake shacks. Here's why they matter more than ever - San Francisco Chronicle - April 21st, 2021
- From dystopia to utopia: How UK co-working spaces are redefining the new normal - UKTN (UK Technology News - April 15th, 2021
- Artist Danny Cole on Dreams of A Utopia of Creatures and Vandalism - Observer - April 15th, 2021
- New England has one of the most epic national park bike rides in America, according to Bicycling magazine - Boston.com - April 15th, 2021
- Offspring guitarist Noodles explains why the bands new album took 9 years to finish - San Bernardino County Sun - April 15th, 2021
- Gagarin's March: 60th Anniversary of the First Human in Space - National Air and Space Museum - April 15th, 2021
- Roxy Ball Room Merrion Street set to reveal supersize gaming utopia | TheBusinessDesk.com - The Business Desk - April 15th, 2021
- Yugoslav architect Svetlana Kana Radevi is saluted at the Venice Architecture Biennale - The Architect's Newspaper - April 15th, 2021
- As a Cultural War Continues to Cause Waves in France, Art Has Become a Lighthouse for Progressive Views - artnet News - April 15th, 2021
- The Sonic Extremes of the MaerzMusik Festival - The New Yorker - April 15th, 2021