The Most Gracious, Ever Merciful

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Basma Qazi Chaudhry, London

The title of the article by Mary Wakefield in The Spectator some four days ago ran, “The Vicar of Baghdad: ‘I’ve looked through the Qur’an trying to find forgiveness… there isn’t any [1].

While the piece mainly talks about the Anglican Church vicar Canon White and his recall to England for security reasons, the headline may suggest otherwise. It even comes off as rather inflammatory. The writer suggests the vicar is a peace loving man of God, one open to dialogue be it with an ISIS fighter, and someone with a worldly perspective representative of the Middle East he lived in. Baghdad is no safe haven after all. Hasn’t been for a while. He reminded one of Morrie (from Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom) who had transcended the humdrum of popular culture. A man of sense, learning and of course religion, one would naturally think, one who is probably acutely aware of the need to distinguish religion from religionists. Christians “haven’t got a very good history either,” he says but that in no way implies Christianity as a religion is at fault.

Canon White is quoted as saying, “The trouble is a lack of forgiveness in Islam. I have looked through the Quran trying to find forgiveness… there isn’t any. If you find it, tell me.” The answer is so overwhelmingly in favour of Islam as a religion of peace, compassion and forgiveness that at first, one is hard-pressed to know where to start.

The God of Islam is, “Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful [2]” one finds this line at least 114 times, it being the first verse of every chapter but one. The word “forgive”, typed in to a PDF version of the Holy Qur’an comes up 51 times [3]. “… ‘God! Forgive us our sins.’ We shall forgive you your sins…” He replied (chapter 2, verse 59), to number but one example. The goal here is not to list every single verse of mercy, forgiveness and compassion, which has already been very aptly catalogued by Zia Shah and numbered two hundred [4].

Canon White then goes on to imply that Allah and the Holy Qur’an justify ISIS’s killing of “infidels” and that comes somewhat as a shock, to put it mildly. By extension, does that mean that the 1.5 billion people in the world who believe in Allah and the Holy Qur’an also believe ISIS to be in the right? An emphatic no and again, no. After all, 1.5 billion Muslims do go about their daily lives in peace and harmony. A paltry 0.013% faction (if ISIS fighters are to be numbered as 200,000) cannot be representative of the broad spectrum of world Muslims. Ignoring the other 99.987% is tantamount to perhaps saying that no, the sun doesn’t rise from the East.

Just as one is not expected to read an Ode on a Grecian Urn, take each verse literally (there being metaphors and all) and understand it straight away (literature teachers or SparkNotes required), verses of the Holy Qur’an carry great depth and meaning, and are meant for study in the historical context in which they were revealed. A complete explanation of the codes and conduct of warfare and the minority group referred to in the verse of choice would take a thesis or even two perhaps. But clearly there seems to be some sort of a story going on. Here is a brief introduction, and clarification in the apt and poignant words of His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaba, worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

“If we look at the Holy Qur’an and also the life and character of the Prophet of Islam, the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, it becomes clear that the early Muslims never initiated any war or violence. If ever the Muslims took part in a war, it was purely defensive and their only objective was to stop the oppressors from their cruelty[5].”

The Makkan period in Islamic history bears witness to the most cruel, brutal and merciless persecution of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa and his followers. “They were subjected to extreme suffering by different modes of torture and were ruthlessly flogged. They were made to lie on burning sand and imprisoned; they were deprived of food and water until they reached the verge of death… There were so many among them whose children were slain before their very eyes and there were many among them who were themselves crucified in front of their children[6].” So much so, that after 13 years of torture and suffering in silence, the Muslims were ordered under divine command to migrate to Madinah, as an escape from their oppressors. However, even after migration, their Makkan oppressors pursued them to Madinah with a fully equipped army, to wage a war, with an endgame of annihilating them, once and for all. “Some Muslims, however were left behind in Makkah, as they lacked adequate provisions for such journeys… and were tormented to the extreme… [The Makkans] went to the extent of killing some women with such ruthlessness as to have bound their legs each to different camels tightly and driving them in opposite directions. Thus they died as they split in two [6].”

It was then for the first time, when the transgressions of the Makkans reached this stage that Muslims were given the permission to stand up to their persecutors and fight to defend themselves. “The reason permission was granted is clearly stated in chapter 22, verses 40-41 of the Qur’an where Allah says that permission for a defensive war was granted because if Muslims did not defend themselves, then the peace of the entire world would be at risk. The opponents did not just wish to eliminate Islam, but in fact wanted to eliminate all forms of religion from the world. Therefore the Qur’an states that if permission was not granted then no church, synagogue, temple, mosque or any other place of worship would remain safe. Hence, the Muslims were permitted to fight back not only to save Islam but to save religion itself on the basis of the aforementioned verse [5].”

Although the mandate of Mary Wakefield’s piece was not to prove the fallacy of ISIS’s logic or that of Canon White’s reasoning, one may now better understand how utterly and completely wrong the self-proclaiming Muslims of today are when they claim it is permissible to kill non-Muslims, seize their lands or enslave them. In the words of the Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, “this is the spirit and essence of Islamic jihad which has been maliciously portrayed in the wrong light [6].”

While the permission for a defensive war was given, Allah laid down many guidelines as code and conduct during warfare. Although Muslims find themselves of a necessity at war, it behoves them to act in a just and righteous manner: “…do not transgress. Surely, Allah loves not the transgressors.” (chapter 2, verse 191) [2], [4].”

In the words of his Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, “in chapter 5, verse 9, Allah instructs Muslims to always act fairly and with justice, even in a state of war. Allah says that the enmity of a nation or people should never lead a Muslim to act unjustly as that is against righteousness… Again in chapter 16, verse 127, Allah the Almighty commands Muslims to never exceed the limits or to transgress during warfare [5], [2].”

Canon White says that “it is what Allah wants,” it being the fighting, combatting and the killing of infidels, because He supposedly does not forgive. The verse referred to by Mr. White and used by ISIS for their corrupt and power-hungry agenda is number 5 from chapter 9. It reads:

[5. And when the consecrated months have passed, kill the idolaters wherever you find them and take them prisoners, and beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent and observe Prayer and pay the Zakāt, then leave their way free. Surely Allāh is Most Forgiving, Merciful [2].]

The fallacy of Canon White’s statement, understanding of this verse, and the Holy Qur’an is resoundingly obvious and the necessity of context, dare one say, conveniently forgotten. This  supposedly “harsh” verse commanding mass killings cannot be reconciled with the divine attributes of “Forgiveness” and “Mercy” with which this verse of choice ends. Allah cannot simultaneously (and illogically) want Muslims to kill the idolaters and yet be forgiving them as well. Sceptics would argue that there is a caveat to the said Divine and by extension human forgiveness but they will not have read the verse immediately following it, which reads:

[6. And if anyone of the idolaters ask protection of thee, grant him protection so that he may hear the word of Allāh; then convey him to his place of security. That is because they are a people who have no knowledge [2].]

The sceptics would again argue that what if they do not ask for protection and do not repent. Those sceptics are referred to chapter 10, verse 100 where just as clearly and unequivocally, Allah has said that He is All-Powerful and if He so wished, He could have made the entire world accept Islam. Yet, He says that “there should be no compulsion in religion…’ (chapter 2, verse 257) [2]. In the words of his Holiness, “Allah did not compel mankind and instructed the Holy Prophet force was not permitted to spread the message of Islam and that religion was a matter for each person’s heart and conscience [5].”

The point that needs highlighting is in fact that Allah enjoins forgiveness in all circumstances but the verses often cited against Islam are about a specific situation. For the uninitiated, the period is in historical Medina after the signing of a well-known diplomatic agreement between the Makkans and the Muslims, named the Treaty of Hudaibiya, which set out amongst other tenets, that there was to be no war for 10 years.  The initial verses of chapter 9 do not refer to disbelievers in general but only those who had not only been the first to open hostilities against Islam but were, at the same time, perfidious and treacherous. Verses 8-10 mention the reasons why Muslims were commanded to wage war against these idolaters. In the words of the Hazrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, 2nd Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community:

  1. They were treacherous and perfidious; they professed to be friendly to Muslims, but as soon as they found an opportunity to injure them, they broke their plighted word and this in spite of the fact that Muslims trusted them (verse 8, 10)
  2. They even disregarded the ties of relationship and killed their own kinsmen merely because the latter had embraced Islam (verse 8)
  3. Their object in making war was to prevent men from embracing Islam (verse 9)
  4. They were transgressors e. the first to attack Muslims (verse 10) [7].

It needs pointing out that once put in context, the verses mean something entirely different.  Verses before and after number 5 explain the why and wherefore of fighting the said minority group of idolaters, with the utmost stress being placed on the if.

[12. And if they break their oaths after their covenant, and revile your religion, then fight these leaders of disbelief … that they may desist.]

More importantly, the divine attributes of “forgiveness” and “mercy” are all encompassing, e.g. if they repent (verse 5,11), if they ask protection (verse 6), if they stand true (verses 4,7,11), if they desist. The conduct of the idolaters had been such as to make them deserving of the severest of punishments, yet it is the extension of forgiveness and mercy that prevails. La boucle est bouclée.

It is an article of faith with Muslims, as enjoined by the Qur’an that God’s Prophets… are incapable of saying or doing anything contrary to Divine commandments (chapter 21, verse 28). By extension, all that the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa did was as a Prophet of Islam. As mentioned before, for 13 long years, the Holy Prophetsa and his followers suffered savage cruelties, which they bore with dignity, decorum and steadfastness. Some ways down the line, at the conquest of Makkah, history bears witness to the most singular event of forgiveness and mercy. There was no triumph, no revenge, only “the most magnanimous and generous act of forgiveness of which history furnishes a record [8].” He granted an umbrella of amnesty to his past persecutors.

Commenting on this conquest of Makkah, the Rev. Bosworth Smith writes in his book, Muhammad and Muhammadanism:

“Now would have been the moment to gratify his ambition, to satiate his lust, to glut his revenge. Read the account of the entry of Muhammad into Mecca side by side with that of Marins or Sulla into Rome. Compare all the attendant circumstances, the outrages that preceded, and the use made by each of his recovered power and we shall then be in a better position to appreciate the magnanimity and moderation of the Prophet of Arabia. There were no proscription lists, no plunder, no wanton revenge. From a helpless orphan to the ruler of a big country was a great transition, yet the Prophet retained the nobility of his character under all circumstances [8].”

The beginning of every chapter barring one of the Holy Qur’an,  reads, “In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful [2].” How can Canon White say that he finds no forgiveness when the very verse, let alone at least 113 other, he refers to reads “…Most Forgiving, Merciful.” If anything is to be taken literally, is it not these 113 occurrences of mercy of the God of Islam, Allah the Almighty?

[1]      M. Wakefield, ‘The Vicar of Baghdad: “I”ve looked through the Quran trying to find forgiveness… there isn’t any.’’, The Spectator, 2015.

[2]      Holy Qur’an. .

[3]      ‘The Holy Quran Arabic text with Translation in English text and Search Engine – Al Islam Online.’ [Online]. Available: http://www.alislam.org/quran/search2/quranSearch.php?swaootw=forgive&st=regular&frm=0&swotw=&oicn=&csen=N&mww=N&swep=N&swaotw=&rpp=10&search=Search&slang=EN. [Accessed: 25-Nov-2015].

[4]      Z. Shah, ‘Two Hundred Verses about Compassionate Living in the Quran | The Muslim Times.’ .

[5]      Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, ‘The Difference between True Islam & Extremist Groups’, Review of Religions, pp. 30–46, Jan-2015.

[6]      Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as), A Message of Peace. Tilford, UK: Islam International Publications Ltd, 2007.

[7]      Hazrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, The Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Commentary. Tilford, UK: Islam International Publications Ltd, 1988.

[8]      T. Kallon, ‘The Holy Prophet (saw): A Messenger of Peace and Reconciliation.’ [Online]. Available: https://www.alislam.org/holyprophet/The-Holy-Prophet-A-Messenger-of-Peace.pdf. [Accessed: 25-Nov-2015].

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