Thursday, February 18, 2010

"Two religions will not remain in the land of the Arabs."

This post consists of three excerpts from the book Tolerance and Coercion in Islam: Interfaith Relations in the Muslim Tradition by Yohanan Friedmann. The book is written in the dispassionate style of a careful scholar whose arguments are well reasoned and thoroughly documented. And yet the picture of Islam that emerges is absolutely devastating.

I have also provided some links, but I have not bothered to thoroughly check up on the veracity of most of what is found in these, so caveat surfor.
first excerpt:
"Early Muslim compendia of hadith include a number of traditions according to which the Prophet decided to expel all non-Muslims from the Arabian peninsula. In some compendia we find traditions about the expulsion of the polytheists, and separate utterances about the expulsion of the Jews and the Christians. The traditions are repeated in chapters dealing with various issues of religious law and appear in variant versions. Most of them deal with the expulsion of the Jews and the Christians from the areas of Medina, Khabyar and Najran. The expulsion from Medina is said to have been carried out by the Prophet; he intended to expel the Jews of Khabyar as well, but allowed them to remain there on the condition that they continue to work the land and yield half of the agricultural produce to the Muslims. Eventually, Umar b. al-Khattab carried out the Prophet's wish and expelled the Jews of Khaybar to Jericho and Tayma. Once this development took place, the clauses in 'ahd al-umma ('Constitution of Medina') bestowing legitimacy on the existence of the Jewish faith in Medina became problematic and had to undergo substantial reinterpretation far removed from their primary meaning."
[p. 90]
second excerpt:
"According to a tradition reported by Malik b. Anas, the last thing the Prophet said before his death was: 'May God fight the Jews and the Christians! They transformed the tombs of their prophets into mosques. Two religions will not remain in the land of the Arabs.' The last sentence was also mentioned by 'Umar when he decided to expel the Jews from Khaybar.

The tradition about the expulsion of the Jews from Medina, reported by Bukhari, seems to imply that the reason for the Prophet's decision was his desire to take over their landed property. The traditions concerning the aftermath of the Banu Qurayza massacre also contain descriptions of distribution of land to the muhajirun. In most traditions of legal import, however, the reason given for the expulsion is the intention to bring about religious uniformity in the Arabian peninsula: the Prophet is reported to have said that no two religions would coexist there (la yajtami'u dinani fi jazirat al-'arab). The reference to the Jews in this context is of particular significance, most Jews are monotheists, and if they are ordered to leave, the expulsion of other infidels follows as a matter of course.

"According to another tradition, the decision to expel the Jews and the Christians was the last decision taken by the Prophet before his death; the implication of this seems to be that this decision remains valid forever, becaues nobody has the authority to revoke the Prophet's injunctions after his death . . . .

"The traditions concerning the expulsion of non-Muslims do not all use the same terms to define the area which they must abandon. Sometimes only Medina is mentioned; but in most cases the terms used are ard al-'Arab, ard al-Hijaz, jazirat al-'Arab, mulk al-'Arab, Khaybar and Wadi al-Qura. Geographically speaking, these terms are not quite clear; some traditionists deem it therefore necessary to specify the boundaries of the area affected by the explusion order. There are also separate traditions about the expulsion of Christians from Najran. Regarding the Zoroastrians of 'Uman, there is a tradition according to which the conquering Muslims gave them the choice to embracing Islam or going into exile. The Zoroastrians chose to leave and abandoned their possessions, which were transformed into state lands (sawafi). On the other hand, the Yemen was not included in the areas that had to be evacuated by the non-Muslims.

"The need for religious uniformity is discussed not only in relation to the Arabian peninsula. The basis for these discussions are prophetic traditions in which the need for religious uniformity is formulated in general terms and is not geographically restricted. In his Sharh al-siyar al-kabir, the Hanafi scholar al-Sarakhsi (d. 1090) discusses the question whether it is permissible for the People of the Book to live in Muslim cities. He replies in the affirmative, because shared residence will, in his opinion, enable the People of the Book to see the beauty of Islam. He mentions, however, the view of al-Halwa'i, who maintains that this rule applies only if non-Muslims are few and their residence will not adversely affect Muslim rituals; if they are numerous, and their residence may have such an adverse effect, they are prevented from living in teh city and are required to live in an area which is not populated by Muslims. Seth Ward has drawn attention to the view of al-Tabari, according to whom 'the legal standing of all Islamic lands is the same as that of the Arabian peninsula.'"
[pp. 91-93]
third excerpt:
"Qur'an 8:39 enjoins the Muslims to 'fight ... till there is no fitna and the religion is God's entirely.' The crucial word fitna is difficult and the commentators most usually explain it as 'infidelity' or 'polytheism' (kufir, shirk). It seems, however, that in this verse fitna conveys primarily the idea of the unbelievers trying to induce the Muslims to abandon their religion. This fits the primary meaning of fatana and its usage in some early documents attributed to the Prophet. It is also compatible with the historical context of early Islam, when the few Muslims were under constant pressure of their powerful adversaries to revert to their former faith. If our understanding is correct, the verse enjoins the Muslims to fight the infidels and weaken them to such an extent that they would no longer be capable of promoting apostasy among the Muslims.

"The Qur'anic commentators go far beyond this meaning of the concept. Theough it is not easy to find an etymological justification for this, the prevalent understanding of fitna in exegesis is polytheism (shirk) or infidelity (kufr). Al-Tabari quotes and exegetical tradition according to which the verse command the Muslims to create a situation in which 'no infidelity will coexist with our religion' (la yakuna ma'a dinikum kuf). He also stresses that even if the polytheists stop fighting, the Muslims must fight them until they embrace Islam . . . .

"The desire to achieve religious uniformity is expressed also in the hadith. Perhaps the most explicit tradition in which Islam enunciated this purpose reads:
I was commanded to fight the people until they say: There is no god except Allah.' Once they have said this, they have rendered their lives and possessions inviolable by me, except on the ground of the (unfulfilled) duties incumbent on them; it will be up to Allah to call them to account.
"This tradtion has been preserved in several versions which are essential for our understanding of its significance. The shortest and probably earliest version, which is quoted above, includes the minimal requirement for conversion: the affirmation of God's oneness. [M. J.] Kister has shown that soon afterward the second shahada, attesting to the prophethood of Muhammad, and the obligation to pray and pay the zakat was added. The expanded version reads:
I was commanded to fight the people until they say: 'There is no god except Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah; and until they perform the prayer and pay the poor tax.' If they do this, they have thereby rendered their lives adn possessions inviolable to me . . . .
"This version reflects the policy ascribed to Abu Bakr at the time of the ridda wars: he demanded that the rebellious tribes conform not only in the purely religious sense, but also pay their share in financing the nascent Muslim state."
[pp. 97-99]


SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

I guess my only concern with this is how representative it is, because Islamic commentary and exegesis is as sprawling and multiple as Judaic Talmudic commentary. Thus, it can be easy to pull anything out of context, if one is not careful to relate how the given interpretations relate to the rest of the interpretations, whether it is a majority ruling, etc. We absolutely must be fair in our assessments and critiques.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

I think that the actions of Muhammad himself in the holiest places of Islam (Medina, Mecca and Arabia) cannot possibly be treated as anything but indicative of the essence of Islam.

There is also the fact that Muhammad's actions in expelling all non-Muslims from Arabia stands to this day.

The historical record with respect to the "interaction" between Islam and other religions is not in doubt. What these excerpts show is that these "facts on the ground" are themselves solidly grounded in what the founder of Islam said and did.

SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

You are assuming there was a founder of Islam named Muhammad, which there may or may not have been. Increasingly some scholars are finding that his existence may be as much in doubt as Jesus'.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

The writings related to Muhammad (the Quran, the Hadith and the various biographical writings about the life of Muhammad) are the earliest records of Islam, written by the founders of the religion, whoever they were.

There is no doubt that a bunch of thugs conquered Arabia and imposed a brutal religious theocracy there (where previously Christians, Jews and polytheists had practiced their religions side-by-side). There is no doubt that they then spread their theocracy to all of North Africa and the Middle East (most of which had already undergone extensive Christianization).

If these thugs invented Muhammad out of their diseased imaginations it makes no difference. Certainly they had one or more leaders for their murderous rampage. Whether Muhammad is a composite of these, or a dramatic fictionalization of one "real" leader, or whatever, "he" represents what was in the minds of those who founded the religion.

The Quran, Hadith and "biographies" of Muhammad define the core beliefs of Islam. This is so regardless of the historicity of Muhammad.

All Muslims are required to accept Muhammad as the last prophet, whose teachings must be followed and cannot be altered or added to. Therefore what is written in the Quran, the Hadith and the biographies IS Islam.

Neorxnawang said...

A great post. I'm sick of the PC-tip toeing around this subject. There's nothing admirable Islam, nor is the notion of anyone deserving special accommodation based off of their religion anything but absurd.

I think one of the best things that could happen to the region is to bring back pre-Islam polytheism. It would be particularly interesting to see an Iranian polytheism reconstructionist group come together...

SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

"an Iranian polytheism reconstructionist group come together..."

Ummmm, that's called "Zoroastrianism".

Nick Ritter said...

A reconstruction of pre-Zoroastrian polytheism would look very much like the early Indic religion that produced the Vedas. The Indians and Iranians were close enough that their gods, before Zarathustra's reform, had the same names. Zarathustra's reform transformed many of these gods into demons, and replaced them with abstractions. I have heard of some stirrings of Iranians going back to these gods.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Modern Zoroastrianism has unfortunately been heavily influenced by Christianity, and as a direct result one often hears the claim, from Zoroastrians themselves, that their religion is "monotheistic".

But is only true for the urban, western educated Parsi's of India. Among those few, scattered Zoroastrian holdouts in Persia itself, the Old Gods are still worshipped.

If we look at Hinduism, we can speculate that Zoroastrianism could be very different today than it was 14 centuries if it hadn't been for Muhammad and his henchmen. Much has changed, and much has also remained the same, in India, where polytheism has proven to be quite resilient, but far from static.

Neorxnawang said...

Siegfried, it should be very evident that reconstructed Iranian polytheism would be a pretty far cry from Zoroastrianism.

SiegfriedGoodfellow said...


Not at all. I've studied Zoroastrianism very closely, and it's as heathen as you can get. If you don't get that, well, then, you probably don't get heathenism.

But that's not surprising to me, because most people don't.

Nick Ritter said...


A monotheizing, sacrifice-banning reform of a polytheistic religion, which transformed a number of that religion's gods into demons, is "as heathen as you can get?"

Also, considering how much you howl when your understanding of heathenry is called into question, perhaps you should be more politic to Neorxnawang about his understanding.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

The idea that Zoroastrianism is "monotheizing" turns out to be a rewriting of history, at least according to Mary Boyce, and I think she has made a very good case.

Nick Ritter said...

I admit, I have not read anything by Mary Boyce. What would you recommend?

Apuleius Platonicus said...

I have some relevant excerpts from her work in this old post.

Those quotes are all from the first volume of her Magnum Opus A History of Zoroastrianism.

Also see other links and sources found in that same post.

Anonymous said...

This is interesting. On Sunday, I sat through a talk at the Unitarian Church by a Muslim woman who believes that Islam is an inherently tolerant religion that prohibits violence between other religions.

Of course, she only ever mentioned Judaism and Christianity.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Did she say anything about what happened to all the non-Muslims in Arabia? When Muhammad was born Arabia was actually a very "multicultural" place, with polytheists, Christians and Jews. But by the time Muhammad had died there were NO polytheists, Christians or Jews left -- only Muslims, a religion that of course had not previously existed.

Ellen Catalina, LCSW said...

The pilgrimage to Mecca was co-opted by Islam. That was an old polytheist rite/ceremony and the Kaaba was there long before Mohammed lived.

The violent verses are there in the Koran for anyone to see. Islam, like Christianity, was spread by the sword.

There are Canaanite and Sumerian recons out there (I've met one of each in my internet travels). I Would love to know what polytheist practice on the Saudi pennisula was like before Islam took over.

Neorxnawang said...

Sorry Goodfellow, your last comment about not "getting" heathenism has caused me to no longer desire to respond to you.

Anonymous said...

She condemns the non-pacifists for interpreting Koran improperly. No, she didn't touch on what had happened with polytheism; I think that, to be a pacifist Muslim, you have to pretend that the forced conversion never really happened.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Kayleigh: "She condemns the non-pacifists for interpreting Koran improperly....."

Interesting. Did she actually identify herself as a pacifist? Pacifist Muslims? Now I really have heard everything!

Anonymous said...

I think she believes the warlike passages refer to the internal struggle between oneself and one's Id or something like that.

Of course, what many others may not have heard in that is that she still believes Islam is the Truth that people will find when they are truly at the end of their spiritual journey.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Kayleigh: "I think she believes the warlike passages refer to the internal struggle between oneself and one's Id or something like that."

Ah yes (doing my WC Fields voice) the old "it's all a metaphor" routine.

Naturally I think that metaphorical interpretations of sacred texts can be perfectly valid. But they can also be all-too-convenient.

Speaking of WC Fields, there's a line in one of his movies where someone finds him off by himself reading the Bible. "I was just looking for loopholes," he explained.