The Koran is the holy book of the Muslims. They believe that it was revealed to the their prophet, Muhammad over a period of 23 years and that the revelations were brought to him by the angel Gabriel. For the Muslims the Koran is the ultimate word of Law, its words can never be questioned. Among them those who memorize the Koran, known as the ‘Hafiz’, are greatly respected. Although the verses of the Koran were recorded in writing immediately after they were revealed to the Prophet, it was formed into a book during the time of Abu Bakr the first Caliph after the Prophet Muhammad’s death.
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The relationship between Islam, Judaism and Christianity
In regard to the followers of these faiths although recognizing them to be followers of the books revealed by Allah the Koran takes issue over what it considers to be the misinterpretation of the books. For example the Koran says ‘Say not Trinity: desist it will be better for you’ (Ali Yusuf (1938) Sura Al-Nisaa Verse 171’.In the same Ayat it exhorts the People of the Book which includes Jews and Christians ‘Commit no excesses in your religion: nor say of God what is untrue’. Other verses are harsher in their tone. For example this Ayat referring to the ‘Children of Israel’(Jews) talks about the oath they broke with God.
‘But because of their breach of their Covenant, We Cursed them and made their heats grow hard: They change the words from their right places and forget a good part of the Message that was sent them’( Sura Al-Maida Verse no 13)
There is a different Ayat which talks about a Covenant that Christians broke. From these Ayats it can be understood that even though The Koran recognizes these as followers of the true prophets of the one God it also vehemently states that the message has been distorted. In many other Ayats the Koran talks about how the People of the Book have not followed God’s words and has declared various statements made by them as blasphemy.
At times the Koran is quite harsh in its treatment of Jews and Christian for example in another Ayat in Surah Al-Imran the believers are told that they will never find true friends from within Jews and Christians because they will always be looking after and focused on their own interests. However at another point in the Koran it is specific in referring to only the Jews as enemies. In fact it categorizes the Jews along with the pagan infidels. It is also important to note that references are also made to a certain section of the People of the Book who are on the right course.
‘There is among them a party on the right course: But many of them follow a course that is evil’( Sura- Al Maida Verse no 69).
The treatment and status of women, marriage, divorce and polygamy
The Koran has talked a great deal about the rights of women in the Koran. There are ayats in the Koran however which tend to distinguish between men and women and men tend to make men out to be superior. However it is important to note that spiritually
Koran does not distinguish between men and women. ‘And their Lord has accepted of them and answered them, “Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you be he male or female, ye are members one of another”.(Sura Al-Imran Verse no 195). This verse indicates that both will be rewarded or punished as the case maybe equally and that they will be equal in the sight of God when the time for judgment comes. As far as economic positions are considered women are entitled to inherit. The Koran says ‘From what is left by parents and those nearest related there is a share for women and a share for women….’(Ali Yusuf (1938) Sura Al-Nisaa Verse no 7).
However there is a clear difference indicated in the Koran about the share of property that Muslim men and women receive out of inherited property. Men receive twice the share of their female counterparts.
When the Koran discusses relations between men and women there seems to be an edge given to men. ‘Men are the protectors and maintainers of women Because God had given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women Are obedient and guard in (the husband’s) absence what God would have them guard.’(Sura Al-Nisaa Verse no 34).
This Ayat along with giving men an advantage over women also gives them the responsibility of taking care of the women. It also describes the duties of the wife to her husband. This Ayat goes onto state that if a wife is disobeying and being disloyal the man is permitted to beat her lightly.
Men are allowed to have four wives at a time. However this excludes the women that the ‘right hand possess’. ‘If you fear that you will not be able to justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two, three or four. (Ali Yusuf (1938) Sura Al-Nisaa Verse no 3)
However according to the Koran neither the slave-women nor free women can be forced to marry or engage in sex with men if they don’t want to. ‘Ye are not forbidden to inherit women against their will nor should you treat them with harshness’ (Sura Al-Nisaa Verse no 19) As far as divorce is concerned, all attempts should be made to mend the marriage before it is considered. As a solution, in one part the Koran recommends that one family member of each should meet and try and help the couple if a rift has occurred. If the man chooses to leave his wife he cannot take her dowry away from her unless she has been guilty of lewdness. A woman who is afraid that her husband will leave her or if he is violent towards her she can leave him and still keep her dowry.
The justification of a “holy war” (jihad)
The word Jihad is mentioned forty-one times in the Koran which means that it is a very important concept for Muslims. The word itself means maximum struggle or effort towards a goal. However in Islamic law it means exerting ones power to ones utmost in the way of Allah.
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Although Jihad has become a byword in today’s extremist climate the Koran makes it very clear that Jihad does not mean that Muslims can force others to accept their faith. This is strongly forbidden. Also another point to be noted is that Muslims cannot initiate a war unless they are being persecuted.
‘Permission to fight against (disbeliever) is given to those (believers) who fight against because they have been wronged, and surely Allah is able to give them victory. Those who have been expelled from their homes unjustly only because they said ‘’Our Lord is Allah”. For had it not been that Allah checks one set of people by means of another, monasteries, charities, synagogue and mosque where the name of Allah is mentioned much would surely have been pulled down” ( Sura Al-Taha Verse no 39-40)
Another Ayat reiterates the same thing saying’ Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress limits, for Allah loves not transgressors’ ( Sura Al-Baqra Verse no 190). These Ayats make it clear that Muslims should have an inherently peaceful attitude until they are attacked or if then need to ensure that they are allowed to freely express their faith. Yet another Ayat says:‘And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression and their prevails justice and faith in Allah, but if they cease let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression’ (Ali Yusuf (1938) Sura Al-Baqra Verse no 190).
The justification of suicide bombers comes from the fact that the Koran gives a very high status and promises rewards to those who fight in the way of Allah. The Koran says: ‘Those who believed and those who suffered exile and fought (and strove and struggled) in the path of Allah they have the hope of the Mercy of Allah and Allah is oft-forgiving most merciful’ ( Sura Al-Baqra Verse no 218)
An analysis of this discussion indicates that even though the Koran reiterates the value of human life and discourages war unless Muslims are forced to by circumstance it also honors warriors fighting in the way of Allah which has been seen as the justification for glorifying war.
Suicide is forbidden by Islam. The Koran says ‘ and do not kill your people; surely Allah is Merciful to you.’.( Sura Al-Nisaa Verse 29). This Ayat refers to the destruction that someone may cause to themselves or their brethren. However it is important to note that the Koran distinguishes between suicide and martyrdom. Martyrdom is considered the ultimate sacrifice by a Islam in the path of Allah.
In regard to this matter the Koran says
‘Forbidden to you is that which of itself and blood, and the flesh of swine and that on which any other name other then Allah has been invoked and the strangled animal, and that beaten to death and that killed by a fall and killed by being smitten with horns and that which wild beasts have eaten except what you slaughtered’(Ali Yusuf (1938) Sura Al-Maida Verse no 3)
Also Muslims are for bidden to eat pig and other unclean animals, beasts and birds of prey and the animals need to be slaughtered in a specific way. Also while a Muslim is fasting he is forbidden to eat anything between dusk and dawn. Also it is important to note that all these restrictions if a Muslims life depends on it.
Treatment of Abraham, Moses and Jesus
Despite the earlier discussion in which I mentioned that the Koran has constantly criticized Jew and Christians the Koran states that Abraham, Jesus and Moses received revelations from the same God and these prophets are respected and revered as Messengers of God in the Koran. In fact the Koran says ‘To those who believe in God and his apostles and make no distinction between any of the apostles we shall soon give their(due rewards) for God is oft-forgiving, Merciful’ ( Sura Al-Nisaa Verse 152)
The story of all three prophets is recounted in the Koran and in regard to Moses the Koran says ‘And to God Moses spoke direct’ ( Sura Al-Nisaa Verse 164) about Jesus Christ ‘Christ disdaineth not to serve and worship God’ ( Sura Al-Nisaa Verse 172).
While recounting the story of how the prophet Abraham was condemned to be burnt in a fire it talks about how God performed a miracle to ease Abrahams pain ‘We said: O’ fire! Be a means of comfort and security for Ibrahim’.( Sura Maryam Verse no 65-68).
Although as discussed earlier Muslims recognize the earlier scriptures as revelations by earlier however they believe that the previous scriptures have been corrupted and modified by its followers over the ages. However God promises his followers in the Koran that this particular book will remain uncorrupted. ‘We have without doubt revealed the remainder and we will guard it from corruption’ (Sura Al-R’ad Verse no 9).
Ali Yusuf (1938) Holy Quran Text, Translation and Commentary Lahore.