Islam in History
ISLAM IN HISTORY
According to a tradition, Prophet Muhammad e observed that every verse of the Quran has two levels of meaning, one apparent and one hidden. That is, we have to read between the lines in order to go beyond the literal meaning and then, by keener concentration, arrive at its deeper significance.
So far as the literal import of the Quran is concerned, this was fully understood by the people at the time of revelation itself. For instance, the verse, ‘Say, God is one,’ (Quran, 112:1) was correctly construed by the Muslims of the early period of Islam, just as it will be today.
There will be no difference in meaning with the passage of time. But, on more profound reflection, Quranic nuances, hidden in the lines, become unveiled. Such close study is engaged in in every period of time, so that new shades of meaning will continue to be revealed in every age.
According to a hadith, Prophet Muhammad observed: “The wonders of the Quran will never d.” (Mishkat al-Masabih, Vol. 1, p. 659). This hadith refers to that aspect of the Quran which is of deeper significance, or that which lies between the lines.
The Quran being the scriptures of an eternal religion, new connotations will go on being revealed in every succeeding age as a result of profound reflection. This process will continue uninterrupted until Doomsday.
Here I should like to focus on certain very apt verses appearing at two places in the Quran. (2:193, 8:39). They concern qital-e-fitna, that is, the abolition of religious persecution.
When we study these verses in the light of other related verses of the Quran, we find that it was God’s plan to abolish religious persecution and replace it with complete religious freedom, so that His servants could worship Him alone without any fear of persecution. Along with that, the door to the call of monotheism also was to be thrown wide open.
The Eradication of Fitna
Islam emerged in the first quarter of the seventh century. At that time, monarchy was the order of the day all over the world.
To the political rulers of that epoch, dissent of any kind, particularly religious free thinking, was anathema, because they saw it as a threat to their power. Therefore, to achieve political consolidation, the monarchs of those days adopted the principle of ideological coercion.
Religious persecution thus became a weapon in the hands of the despots, so that no new ideology could be allowed to develop. Strong exception was taken to the growth of any other religion save that approved by the state.
The independent thinking so essential for intellectual progress, was thus cruelly suppressed, and that was why, during the long periods of monarchical rule, neither could the sciences flourish, nor could individuals opt for the religion of their choice.
Anyone who had the audacity to make an issue of this was likely to face summary execution.
The Quran refers thus to the religious oppression of ancient times:
Cursed be the people of the trench, who lighted the consuming fire and who sat around it watching the believers whom they were torturing. And they had nothing against them, save that they believed in God, the Mighty, the Praiseworthy. (85:4-8)
The human condition of those days is similarly depicted in a Makkan tradition narrated by Khabbab ibn al Arat: We complained to the Prophet at a time when he was resting in the shade of the Kabah wall.
We said to him: “Don’t you pray for us to God?” The Prophet replied: “Those who went before you faced such unbearable trials (due to their faith in a religion other than that of the state).
One of them would be brought for trial, a pit would be dug for him, then he would be buried in it in a standing posture, with his head above the edge of the pit.
Then a saw would be passed through his head until it split into two parts.
Yet even such severe trials did not cause him to waver from his faith. People were scraped with iron combs until all their skin came off and the bones of their bodies were exposed. Yet these acts of persecution did not deter them from adhering to their faith.
Certainly God’s will shall prevail (that is, the age of religious freedom will certainly come) when a traveller will journey from Sana’a to Hadhramawt, (that is, from one region to another,) without fearing anyone save God.
And he will fear no wolf for his sheep. Yet you are in a hurry.” (Sahih Bukhari, Kitab al-Manaqib, Chapter, Alamaat an Nubuwah fi‘l Islam).
This hadith shows that one of the revolutionary changes to be ushered in in the wake of the Prophet’s mission was the end of this ancient age of religious persecution and the replacing of it with an age of religious freedom in order to smooth the path for God’s servants to follow His religion.
This most significant transformation was to take place as part of a divine plan. That is why the Quran enjoined the Prophet’s companions to pray in advance to God:
“Lord, do not lay on us the burden you laid on those before us. Lord, do not charge us with more than we can bear.” (2:286)
This prayer was revealed by God Himself for the benefit of the believers. It was like a divine ordinance announced in the form of a prayer to be recited by the companions.
This means that God, who is the controller of history, had decreed a change in this coercive political system of ancient times in order that the religion of Monotheism could be practised and the invitation to people to answer its call could be issued in an atmosphere of freedom—a task which till that point had been seriously hindered by the prevalent religious oppression.