Mother of Books, Probing, Morality without God

Issue 906 » August 5, 2016 - Dhul Qida 2, 1437

Living The Quran

Mother of Books
Al-e-Imran (The House of Imran) - Chapter 3: Verse 84

"We believe in God, and in that which has been revealed to us, which is that which was revealed to Abraham and Ismail and Jacob and the tribes [of Israel], as well as that which the Lord revealed to Moses and to Jesus and to all the other Prophets. We make no distinction between any of them; we submit ourselves to God."

The Quran, as a holy and revealed scripture, repeatedly reminds Muslims that what they are hearing is not a new message but the "confirmation of previous scriptures" (12:111). In fact, the Quran proposes the unprecedented notion that all revealed scriptures are derived from a single concealed book in heaven called the Umm al-Kitab, or "Mother of Books" (13:39). That means that as far as Muhammad understood, the Torah, the Gospels, and the Quran must be read as a single, cohesive narrative about humanity's relationship to God, in which the prophetic consciousness of one prophet is passed spiritually to the next: from Adam to Muhammad.

Of course, Muslims believe that the Quran is the final revelation in this sequence of scriptures, just as they believe Muhammad to be "the Seal of the Prophets." But the Quran never claims to annul the previous scriptures, only to complete them. And while the notion of one scripture giving authenticity to others is, to say the least, a remarkable event in the history of religions, the concept of the Umm al-Kitab may indicate an even more profound principle.

As the Quran suggests over and over again, and as the Constitution of Medina explicitly affirms, Muhammad may have understood the concept of the Umm al-Kitab to mean not only that the Jews, Christians, and Muslims shared a single divine scripture but also that they constituted a single divine Ummah. As far as Muhammad was concerned, the Jews and the Christians were "People of the Book" (ahl al-Kitab), spiritual cousins who, as opposed to the pagans and polytheists of Arabia, worshipped the same God, read the same scriptures, and shared the same moral values as his Muslim community.

Although each faith comprised its own distinct religious community (its own individual Ummah), together they formed one united Ummah, an extraordinary idea that Mohammed Bamyeh calls "monotheistic pluralism."

It is no coincidence that just as they reversed many of Muhammad's social reforms aimed at empowering women, the Muslim scriptural and legal scholars of the following centuries rejected the notion that Jews and Christians were part of the Ummah, and instead designated both groups as unbelievers. These scholars reinterpreted the Revelation to declare that the Quran had superseded, rather than supplemented, the Torah and the Gospels, and called on Muslims to distinguish themselves from the People of the Book. This was largely an attempt to differentiate the nascent religion of Islam from other communities so it could establish its own religious independence, much as the early Christians gradually dissociated themselves from the Jewish practices and rituals that had given birth to their movement by demonizing the Jews as the killers of Jesus.

Nevertheless, the actions of these scriptural scholars were in direct defiance of Muhammad's example and the teachings of the Quran. For even though Muhammad recognized the irreconcilable differences that existed among the Peoples of the Book, he never called for a partitioning of the faiths. On the contrary, to those Jews who say "the Christians are wrong!" and to those Christians who say "the Jews are wrong!" (2:113), and to both groups who claim that "no one will go to heaven except the Jews and Christians" (2:111), Muhammad offered a compromise. "Let us come to an agreement on the things we hold in common," the Quran suggests: "that we worship none but God; that we make none God's equal; and that we take no other as lord except God. (3:64). It is a tragedy that after fifteen hundred years, this simple compromise has yet to overcome the sometimes petty yet often binding ideological differences between the three faiths of Abraham.

Compiled From:
"No god But God" - Reza Aslan, pp. 99-104

Understanding The Prophet's Life


It is not required of the Muslim to inquire about what he has not witnessed, i.e., How was the animal killed? Did the manner of Slaughter meet the Islamic conditions? Was the name of Allah mentioned while slaughtering or not? If the animal was slaughtered by a Muslim, even if he is ignorant or sinful, or by someone from among the People of the Book, eating it is halal for us.

Reported by Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her), "A group of people said to the Prophet (peace be upon him), 'Some people bring us meat and we do not know whether they have mentioned Allah's Name or not on slaughtering the animal.' He said, 'Mention Allah's Name on it and eat.' Those people had embraced Islam recently." [Bukhari]

Concerning the application of this hadith, scholars say: This is proof that the actions and practices of people are ordinarily considered to be correct and appropriate, while deviation or error must be proved.

Compiled From:
"The Lawful and Prohibited in Islam" - Yusuf Al-Qaradawi


Morality without God

The question of whether morality without God is possible will probably remain the subject of theoretical discourses as it cannot be tested in practice nor referred to by a certain historical event. No case of a completely irreligious community has ever been known throughout history, nor have we countries where generations are brought up in complete indifference or hatred toward religion to give us a sure answer to the question of whether there is morality without religion, or whether an atheistic culture and society are possible. Such societies, regardless of the walls with which they surround themselves, cannot remain beyond space and time. All the past is present here, radiating in innumerable ways; the rest of the world is also present, influencing it either intentionally or spontaneously. I dare to assert that the behaviours, laws, human relationships, and social order of a community in which the members were brought up in complete ignorance of religion would be drastically different from everything we know or encounter today both in the religious societies and in those which live under the predominant influence of atheistic ideas. Many nonreligious people would probably be shocked if they knew the views or laws of a truly atheistic society or if they were suddenly faced with the image of a consistently atheistic world.

The morality of the nonreligious man also has its source in religion, but in an earlier, forgotten religion which still influences and radiates from all surroundings, family, literature, film, architecture, and so on. The sun has set, but the warmth that radiates in the night comes from the sun. The warmth is still felt in the room, although the fire in the hearth is out. Morality is past religion in the same way as coal is the sum of past centuries. Only by the complete destruction and elimination of the spiritual inheritance of the ages would it be possible to create the psychological conditions for the complete atheistic education of a generation. Mankind has been living for thousands of years under the influence of religion. Religion has pervaded all aspects of life: morality, laws, beliefs, and even language. It is therefore appropriate to ask whether it is possible today to "produce" a pure atheistic generation. The attempt would have to be made in complete isolation. The people of such a generation would have to be kept away from the Bible, the Quran, and all other religious texts. They could not be allowed to see a single work of art, to hear a single symphony, to see any drama from Sophocles to Beckett. All the famous architectural works that man has ever built and all the literary works that he has ever written would have to be hidden from sight. These people would have to grow up in complete ignorance of everything we call the fruits and expressions of human culture. Because of man's natural inclination toward religion, even one of Hamlet's monologues about death, a glance at Michelangelo's frescoes, or the knowledge of the legal principle nullem crimen . . . could bring before them the vision of another universe completely different from the atheistic one.

First, morality as a principle does not exist without religion, whereas practical morality does. However, practical morality exists by inertia and is very weak, being further from the source that gives it its initial force. Second, moral order cannot be based on atheism. Atheism, however, does not abolish morality, at least not in its lower form: social discipline. Besides, if atheism is put into practice when trying to form a society, it will even be interested in maintaining the existing forms of social morality. The socialist practice of our century confirms these facts. Atheism, however, has no means to preserve or to protect the very principle of morality once this principle is called into question. Atheism is quite helpless against the rush of purely utilitarian, selfish, and immoral or amoral claims. What can be done against this crippling logic? If I live only today and have to die tomorrow and be forgotten, why should I not live as I like and without obligations, if I can? The wave of pornography and the "new morality" of sexual freedom is stopped at the frontier of socialist countries only by force and by censor - that is, artificially. No moral order approves of that wave of the immoral kind, and even if certain arguments are heard in favour of it, they are an example of inconsistency and can endure only due to the lack of open and free criticism. In fact, only inherited old moral norms still exist in the consciousness of people, or the state maintains them out of necessity. Still, strictly speaking, this inherited moral order is in contradiction with the official ideology, and there is no room for it in the system. We can conclude that morality is nothing but another "state of aggregation" or religion.

Compiled From:
"Islam Between East and West" - Alija Ali Izetbegovic, pp. 134-139