Mahmoud Mohamed Taha : A dogmatic revolution

Mahmoud Mohamed Taha

In 1988, the publication of Salman Rushdie’s fourth novel, « The Satanic Verses, » provoked a wave of hatred and threats against him. On February 14, 1989, a death sentence was even decreed by Ayatollah Khomeini in the form of a fatwa.

Rightly, the media continued to relay reactions of indignation and support to the author, declaiming the legitimate attachment of the modern world to freedom of expression, condemning this return to the Inquisition and the crime of lèse- majesty. However the media noise produced a regrettable side effect resulting in a renunciation of any attempt to explain this radical and violent stiffening of some religious authorities.

Seventeen years later, a similar phenomenon took place when a Danish newspaper published caricatures of Muhammad. Reactions in the Muslim world were many, hateful and violent. The twelve cartoonists had even a price put on their heads by a Pakistani extremist group.

The publication by Charlie Hebdo of the cartoons of Muhammad Jyllands-Posten in 2006 triggered once again violent reactions, and years later, the dramatic events that everyone know about.

During these media highlights, no scholar or Arab world expert was asked to answer these questions: Why is irreverence towards Muhammad the source of such reactions? What is the image of the prophet in the Muslim world? What are the dogmatic stakes of a downgrading of the image of the prophet? How can the cold and calculated reactions of certain religious authorities be explained?

For example, the importance of the Prophet’s perfection dogma supported by tradition against the letter of the Koran was never mentioned. And it is likely that few political decision-makers were ever informed that any attack on the dogma of infallibility of the prophet constitutes, for the Islamic legal edifice, in the current state of the dominant dogmatic system, a real threat of collapse. .

Today, grasping the theological issues related to the image of Muhammad and to the status of the verses of the Koran is an absolute necessity for anyone who does not wish to be reduced to a partial understanding of contemporary phenomena related to Islam.

Our goal is to sensitize all those who are interested in Islam and particularly in political Islam, students, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, atheists, political decision-makers, specialists in radicalization and / or de-radicalization, to the dogmatic issues. This article also addresses all theologians, pastors, priests, imams and believers whose souls are sometimes plagued by dogmas that prevent them from self-realization as human beings.

As a preliminary and for the layperson’s sake, we will briefly explain why the tradition has always tried to impose a certain interpretation of the so-called « satanic verses ».

Next, we will explain why, any questioning of the dogma of perfection of the prophet and/ or his infallibility is likely, given the dominant interpretation of the sacred texts, to revolutionize all the legal systems of the Muslim countries willing to follow the Sharia law. Then, we will demonstrate that the declaration of the obsolescence of the warlike verses, vengeful or archaic legislation has become a necessity if one wants to remove the soil on which radicalization nourishes itself.

So that everyone understands that our purpose is not to degrade a religion, we will draw on the work of Mahmoud Mohammed Taha and on the fiction « The Nazarene could tell you that … », concepts and ideas that we will assemble in order to propose a new systematic, better adapted to the textual and historical reality, whose promotion would propel Islam to the vanguard of modernity.

The episode of the so-called « satanic » verses and its dogmatic defense

As a preliminary, we reproduce below an excerpt from the book « The Nazarene could tell you that … »). (This book is a fiction in which the author engages in an exercise in style, imagining what Jesus might say to our contemporaries.)

« …when the Quraysh exclaimed, “Shall we leave our gods for a mad poet”; it was an inner willingness to compromise that prompted Muhammad to justify the worship of the so-called goddesses, Allat, Al-Uzza, and Manat.

Hear then! There was no need to pretend that the devil had himself laid down these verses on the tongue of Muhammad. No need indeed to save the image of Muhammad, because this man, worthy of praise, recognized his own mistake and reformed himself for the better delight of his Lord. »

This passage presents an interpretation probably consistent with the historical reality but that the tradition is reluctant to admit. Indeed, in the message that Muhammad delivered to the inhabitants of Mecca, there was the affirmation of the uniqueness of God and the rejection of polytheism. To accept Muhammad’s preaching as a whole was equivalent for the members of the powerful Meccan tribe of the Quraysch to renouncing the worship of three female deities which were familiar to them. Such a renouncement was not conceivable for them . Faced with this difficulty, Muhammad gave in to the compromise and justified the adoration of the three divinities hoping thus to rally his Meccan auditors. Realizing that this accommodating stance went against the strict monotheism he was professing, Muhammad got aware of his mistake and retracted his words.

The dogmatic problem resulting from this likely historical fact is that to affirm that Muhammad was able to fail, even if he was able to recover, undermines the principle of infallibility of the prophet developed by tradition. This is the reason why the tradition tried to impose an interpretation proper to save the dogma of infallibility of the prophet. In the end, it was admitted that Satan himself tried to dictate to Mohammed a heretical teaching.

The questioning of this thesis by Salman Rushdie was at the origin of violent reactions from some religious authorities, who favored the strict application of sharia.

The necessary attachment of the followers of sharia to the dogma of perfection of the Prophet.

In the Muslim world, the person of Muhammad, the Prophet, is the subject of an unparalleled reverence. As soon as the name of Muhammad is pronounced, it must be followed by this eulogictic formula: « May the peace and blessing of God be upon him. » One finds in the immense corpus constituted by the Hadith, set of narrations reporting acts and words attributed to the Prophet and transmitted by channels of transmitters certified by tradition, many stories, from which it emanates a fairy tale ambiance.

A cloud of miracles and perfection covers the life of Muhammad, despite his own statements: « I am only a man like you. » (Surah 41 – Verse 6) Many times in the Qur’an, Muhammad claims and explains the fact of not performing miracles. To the question, « Why have not we sent down upon him wonders from his Lord? » He answers: « The wonders are with Allah, but I am only a very clear warner » (Surah 29 – verse 50). And yet the tradition, drawing on the Hadith, does not cease to attribute to it all sorts of miracles.

The reader must understand that this insistence on the part of tradition to make Muhammad a being of perfection obeys an imperative necessity. In the same way that every good tree bears good fruit, the being of perfection necessarily produces perfect deeds and words.

But Sharia, literally « the way to respect the law of God », is based on the Sunnah of the Prophet, ie his actions and his words as they appear from the Qur’an, the Hadith and the Sira (authorized biography of the Prophet).

Logically, it is because the words and deeds of Muhammad are produced by a being of perfection that they are necessarily perfect and can therefore be used to found Sharia, ie Islamic law. In other words, the perfection of the Prophet conditions the perfection of his acts and words, and the perfection of his acts and words determines the perfection of Sharia.

To undermine the image of the prophet certainly amounts to the mind of someone who calls himself a Muslim to attacking a familiar model that in his eyes embodies perfection, goodness, and know-how-to-be, a model whose imitation is encouraged by Tradition, but above all, it is seen by the dogma keepers as a undermining endeavor to shake the foundations of Islamic law with the risk of collapse attached to it. This is why powerful defense mechanisms come into play as soon as the image of Muhammad is tarnished.

The evolution of the prophet and the two messages of the Koran

Let the reader read the Qur’an from the first sura to the last, then he will see the disparate aspect of the themes that are addressed and the absence of an order and / or a thread easily detectable. However, let the same reader undertake the reading of the Quran in the chronological order established by Tradition, and its perceptive changes.

This second reading reveals the evolving characters of the message of Muhammad. Despite certain entanglements, two bodies are clearly distinguishable, with on one side a universalist, spiritual, gentle and merciful message, focused on the perfection of the individual, and on the other, a political message, sometimes legislating, heading towards more severity and less freedom, with the aim of governing the community of Medina, and responding to various controversies. This part of the Koran of Medinese origin seems very often dictated by the circumstances and appears particularly adapted to the psychological capacities of the people who receive it.

Let’s go back to the Meccan message that Mahmoud Mohamed Taha calls the second message of Islam and that we call the initial or ontological message. Its verses, that Muhammad delivers to the members of the powerful Quraish tribe, are spiritual, powerful, and merciful. Monotheism is affirmed with force. Allah’s omnipotence, the beauty of his creation, his merciful and omniscient nature, are declaimed. The human being is called to submit to the design that God envisions for his creature. The law underlying this message is ontological. It addresses the individual. The submission to the will of Allah is the corollary of the creative finality, namely the perfection of the human being.

The Meccan message is addressed to an accomplished man, endowed with reason. Therefore, the possibility of consuming wine is considered a blessing, « a sign for the reasoning people » (Surah 16, verse 67).

The suras of this first period are marked with tolerance, respect and admiration for the followers of other monotheisms. Mohammed appears particularly well disposed towards Jews and Christians, considering that the truth is also found in previous revelations. Finally, this initial message will be rejected by the inhabitants of Mecca. Mohammed got little support and was even forced to flee and exile in Medina.

In Medina, the status of Muhammad changes. He is no longer the « warner », but the temporal and spiritual leader of the Medinese community. Confronted with the principle of reality, he seems to give up the ideal of the Meccan message as to deliver verses that are no longer intended for the individual, but for the community he intends to guide. The suras of this period are more severe. It is easy to detect a form of resentment towards Christians but especially towards Jews who, contrary to his hopes, do not recognize him as coming from the lineage of the prophets. The legislation is hardening. Some bans become absolute and tolerance is no longer so pregnant. While verse 43 of Sura 4 of Medina origin forbids believers to approach the prayer room when they are drunk, until they understand what they say, sura 5, which is posterior, stigmatizes the consumption of alcohol and establishes an absolute prohibition: « O believers! Wine, games of chance, statues, the arrows of divination are an abomination invented by Satan. Spread it out so that you succeed. « 

The preaching of Medina is moving away from the highly spiritual ontological message of Mecca to spread a message simply adapted to the circumstances and the low spiritual level of its listeners. Sanction is adapted to the roughness of the manners of the people to whom he is sent. The time for the announcement of eternal and immutable truths seems to be over. The principle of reality catches up with the envoy who is now legislating and ensuring the political and military conduct of the Medinese community.

The affirmation « No compulsion in religion » (Sura 2 verse 256) is repealed and replaced by warlike verses as verse 39 of Sura 8: « And fight them until there is no more association, and that religion is wholly to Allah … « then by Sura 9, verse 29 which states in these terms: » Fight those who do not believe in Allah or the Last Day, who do not forbid what Allah and His Messenger forbade and do not profess the religion of truth, among those who received the Book, until they shed the capitation with their own hands, after humbling themselves. « 

Even though many of the Medinese verses may appear as avengers, inciting the combat, and stigmatizing the Jewish tribes, they would not pose dogmatic problems if they were interpreted as the mere testimony of the political and military work accomplished in Medina by Muhammad.

What creates a real difficulty is the sanctification of these verses, supposed to represent literally the word of God. Moreover, these verses are most often abrogative and not repealed verses, which means that they could be considered as carrying immutable and eternal truths. We think that here is a real dogmatic stalemate.

Faced with the presence of contradictory verses, tradition created the theory of abrogation, which is none other than the principle of repealing the oldest verse by the most recent verse when these verses treat a similar question differently. This is consistent with verse 106 of Sura 2, which states: « If we abrogate a verse or forget it, we bring a better one or a similar one. Do you not know that Allah is omnipotent? « 

This theory is, in our opinion, poorly formulated and misinterpreted. Although the spirit of tolerance is often associated with Islam, inquiring minds who want to make their own opinion will read the Quran and will note the warlike, vengeful and cruel characters of many verses. There is a world between the religion of peace and tolerance of which moderate imams speak to us and the actual content of certain verses. Moreover, these verses often repeal the Meccan verses imbued with spirituality, sincerity, clemency and ecumenism.

We believe that it is necessary to reform the principle of abrogation, which on the one hand poses an insurmountable dogmatic difficulty, and on the other hand, does not conform to the systematic approach that emerges from the objective analysis of the Qur’an. .

 Dogmatic proposals

We have voluntarily developed very little the preceding ideas in order to favor systematics in relation to exegesis. This excerpt from the book « The Nazarene could tell you that … » illustrates our method.

« Beware of answers of the guardians of tradition, because the abundance and complexity of their explanations are usually a sign of weakness.

Quite the contrary, as the physicist, prefer picked explanations whose scope is as wide as possible and deny long and laborious verbal litanies that apply to only a fragment of a text.

Once again! Prefer brevity, and reject the hypothesis that science does not consolidate. For if they say every cloud is driven by the breath of an invisible angel, this is because they have understood that no one can formally demonstrate what they say is false. »

What we propose to believers, followers of the rituals of Islam, is a concise and clear dogmatic revolution.

First of all, we think with Mahmoud Mohamed Taha that the Qur’an carries two distinct messages that sometimes become entangled.

The ontological message is the message delivered at the beginning of the mecca preaching. However, it sometimes appears entangled in Medina suras. It incites humanity to improvement and elevation. It is an ontological message that has been received by a very limited number of believers, given the low level of elevation of humanity at the time. Meccan preaching is to be considered as the seeding of creative information in the spirit of the nascent humanity.

The Medina situational message was adapted to the circumstances prevailing in Medina at the time of the Prophet and in particular to the state of scientific and psychological progress of the time. This message contains many verses adapted to local circumstances whose severity is no longer adapted to the present humanity. The speech delivered to Medina inhabitants was intended to govern their community and to answer controversies. It does not support the divine ontological finality.

Under these conditions, the circumstantial verses essentially of Medinan origin do not bear witness to the perfection of the prophet and of the verses he utters, but to the perfect adaptation of the prophet and of the medinese verses to local circumstances. (see below an excerpt from the book « The Nazarene could tell you that … » …)

« Verily I say unto you, it is in consideration of his intelligence and his weaknesses that Muhammad was chosen by the Lord.

For it is his intelligence and weaknesses that enabled him to produce the words and deeds that enabled him to reach the goal to which his Lord had inspired him.

This is the seeding of the divine purpose in the soul of Muhammad and the freedom of means that the Lord granted him, that allowed him to get the Arabs to decide to give up their ancient gods and recognize the existence of Yahweh.

And so, by this way, the will of Allah was answered. »

It is therefore preferable to prefer the dogma of the perfect adaptation of the prophet to the local circumstances and humanity of his time to that of the perfection of his being.

The idea of coexistence between an ideal message with an ontological purpose of « Meccan » origin and a « Medinese » situational message intended to govern the Medinese community also calls for the modification of the theory of abrogation. We are only developing here an idea that we owe to Mahmoud Mohamed Taha.

Verse 106 of Sura 2 states: « If we abrogate a verse or we forget it, We bring a better one or a similar one. Do you not know that Allah is omnipotent? Must be interpreted as follows. »

The repeal in question must be considered as not definitive but rather temporary. « Better » means « better adapted » to the Medinese community of the time. The verses bearing the theory of abrogation must be considered as situational verses.

Today, we consider that it is up to the dogma keepers to accept the principle of reality, to abandon certain cognitive biases as well as all the teleological interpretations that do not conform to the Quranic reality. (hereinafter an excerpt from the book « The Nazarene could tell you that … »)

« It is high time you understand that when a tradition supports a worldview disqualified by science, this tradition generates a misrepresentation.

It is high time you understand that misrepresentations generate division.

It is high time for you to get rid of the representations that science refutes, for falsehood helps to separate yourself from your brothers. « 

To summarize, we propose three principles that can serve as a basis for the construction of a new dogmatic system :

  • The principle of coexistence within the Qur’an of two messages with two distinct aims, one with an ontological purpose, possessing a character of eternal and immutable truth, permeating the Meccan preaching, the other, the medinese and situational message, aiming at governing the human community of Medina as well as the political and military aspects;
  • The principle of the perfect adaptation of the prophet to the local medinese circumstances in place of the dogma of perfection created by tradition;
  • The situational nature of the theory of abrogation.

The admission of these three principles would open up a field of perfection unparalleled for the Muslim world and would immediately lead to the obsolescence of warlike verses and verses carrying archaic rules. We have reproduced below an excerpt from the book « The Nazarene could tell you that … » which illustrates our point.

« On the offending stubbornness of the religious who refuse obsolescence

Let those who have ears to hear distinguish between error and crime!

The one who, refusing to accept the outright lapsing of a cruel verse held sacred by humans, continues to attribute to this sacred text a character of eternal and unchanging truth commits a crime against the Holy Spirit.

Understand! The posture of this person who insists on seeing in the amputation of a limb a divine, eternal and immutable law, and who boasts of willing to preserve a situational rule manufactured by some elders, is an abomination in the eyes of Allah.

I tell you, there are people who do not commit this fault but make a mistake.

Hear ye! Some defenders of the tradition are caught between two requirements. Part of their being cannot help to continue to venerate texts bearing situational rules on the grounds that every syllable of these texts would be the pure and perfect transcription of the word of my Father. The other part of their being does not question the need to replace the old rule, clearly inadequate, by a new rule, relevant to the present.

Amen! Rather than to accept the mere obsolescence of an old rule, these persons persist in wanting to see in the canonized text that carries it, a text eternally significant.

It is then that to satisfy their desire to believe in the divine, immutable, and eternal nature of the texts they worship that these worshipers pretend discovering metaphors on metaphors, allegories on allegories, and analogies on analogies for the sole purpose of making these texts tell what they do not tell.

Silencing the Holy Spirit blowing in their souls and engaging in all the convolutions of the mind, these supporters of the sacred syllable indulge the least plausible interpretations, preferring complexity to simplicity, twisting the text whose it is unclear how it could support the new rule they wish to promote.

Understand! You need to distinguish between these two categories.

For the first one, one crime is the attachment to a cruel rule, and one mistake is a refusal to lapse.

For the second one, one proof of their intelligence is the resolution to apply a new rule and one mistake, the refusal to lapse, for the one who is aware of the need not to apply a rule carried by a situational text made sacred by humans and who refuses to lapse, remains in error. »

Towards a new dogmatic system for an Islam at the vanguard of modernity

The promotion of the three principles mentioned above does not only render obsolete the warlike verses as well as those bearing archaic rules. This new dogmatic system places Islam at the forefront of modernity.

Indeed, to distinguish between, on the one hand, the laws intended to govern the human communities and to maintain the social order, and on the other hand, to recognize a superior law not static but dynamic, carrying an ontological purpose, namely, the perfection of the human being, is primordial. This subliminal goal should seed every bit of new law.

The leaders of most human societies seem to have resigned themselves to simply maintaining social order and civil peace. That is why the laws do not integrate or anymore the ideal of perfection of the human spirit. Society takes precedence over the individual, whereas the law governing society should help to organize it in such a way that it promotes human development and places the individual before society. Scientific data is not used to strengthen the human substance. Despite the progress of the cognitive sciences and psychology, the good emotional and intellectual development of the human being is ostensibly not at the heart of the attention of most human societies. Thus, neuroses multiply and humankind suffers.

The new principles that we propose, inspired by the ideas of Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, which shows the relevance of a coexistence between a message of Meccan origin with an ontological purpose and a Medinese corpus for the purpose of governing a human community, must incite the leaders of the human societies and those who make the laws to never lose sight of the finality of perfection of the human species.

Finally, if Islam wanted to reform itself in the sense advocated by Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, this religion could offer to the world a systematic model, through the obligation to integrate in any legal system, on the one hand, situational laws adapted to the human community of the moment and intended to ensure the social order as well as a human production proper to satisfy the vital needs of humanity, and on the other hand, an ontological law carrying the ideal of perfection of the human spirit that should be explicitly or subliminally incorporated into each piece of legislation.

To conclude, we consider that the ontological message of Meccan origin is more relevant than ever. The struggle against idolatry is a challenge that humanity must take up. The idols of the present time are protean. Whether it is money, human-made confections made sacred by human beings, Forrest Gumps that are glorified, mental objects (thoughts or judgements ..) that run through the mind which we mistakenly take seriously. These artifacts remain idols because the value that the human being confers on them far exceeds that which the God of Abraham attributes to them. Many of these human productions, in the face of which modern human being prostrates itself, do not serve the ideal of perfection, but contribute to the degradation of humankind.

Every believer is called to submit to the will of God and especially to sincerely want the best for the one who look at him as his enemy. The execution of rituals is not enough. The adoption of postures of bodily submission is simply a pedagogical prerequisite that must be surpassed to submit in spirit to the will of Yahweh.

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