Selective Submission And The Quest For A Muslim Identity

Anand Ranganathan

Mar 23, 2019, 06:54 PM | Updated 06:54 PM IST

 A person offering <i>namaz</i> at Nakhoda Masjid in Kolkata. (Subhankar Chakraborty/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
A person offering <i>namaz</i> at Nakhoda Masjid in Kolkata. (Subhankar Chakraborty/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
  • If a ‘bad believer’ is one who follows the religious dictats only selectively, then the world is peaceful in large measure because to be a bad believer can also mean to be a good human being.
  • The Holy Koran, the order of the Almighty Allah as dictated to Prophet Mohammed by archangel Gabriel, is the final and unalterable revelation of God in the religion of Islam – a word that means total submission to the will of Allah. But can a Muslim submit selectively? In other words, is there such a thing as a good or a bad Muslim? There is, if one were to define a good Muslim as someone who believes in every commandment of the Holy Koran. Assuming this definition, one that is in fact sacrosanct to any Muslim, a bad Muslim is one who, even though he does not dare to admit it publicly, cherry-picks the Koranic commandments as per his needs.

    A bad Muslim pretends to be a Liberal, and sees a good Muslim as an extremist.

    Now the Holy Koran is amply clear on what is to be done by a Muslim. The word of the Allah is inviolable; it is the whole truth and nothing but the truth; and it is to be followed and submitted to unquestioningly. There is no room for ambiguity.

    A good Muslim is one who follows and takes for granted the word of Allah. Indeed, Allah has described who a good or a bad Muslim is, repeatedly and unequivocally:

    “It is not for a believing man or a believing woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decided a matter, that they should [thereafter] have any choice about their affair. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger has certainly strayed into clear error.” Koran 33:36

    “And obey Allah and the Messenger that you may obtain mercy.” Koran 3:132

    “The believers are only those who, when Allah is mentioned, their hearts become fearful, and when His verses are recited to them, it increases them in faith; and upon their Lord they rely.” Koran 8:2

    “The believers are only the ones who have believed in Allah and His Messenger and then doubt not but strive with their properties and their lives in the cause of Allah. It is those who are the truthful.” Koran 49:15

    “O you who have believed, fear Allah and give up what remains [due to you] of interest, if you should be believers. And if you do not, then be informed of a war [against you] from Allah and His Messenger. But if you repent, you may have your principal - [thus] you do no wrong, nor are you wronged.” Koran 2:278; 279

    “And why do you not believe in Allah while the Messenger invites you to believe in your Lord and He has taken your covenant, if you should [truly] be believers?” Koran 57:8

    “And whoever desires other than Islam as religion – never will it be accepted from him, and he, in the Hereafter, will be among the losers.” Koran 3:85

    “Allah, to whom belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And woe to the disbelievers from a severe punishment.” Koran 14:2

    Going by the aforementioned Koranic verses, it follows beyond doubt that the definition of who is a good or a bad Muslim is well substantiated. Furthermore, Allah is also unambiguous in establishing that his words are the eternal truth, are final, and are inviolable:

    “And the word of your Lord has been fulfilled in truth and in justice. None can alter His words, and He is the Hearing, the Knowing.” Koran 6:115

    “[This is] the established way of Allah with those who passed on before; and you will not find in the way of Allah any change.” Koran 33:62

    “And recite, [O Muhammad], what has been revealed to you of the Book of your Lord. There is no changer of His words, and never will you find in other than Him a refuge.” Koran 18:27

    “…No change is there in the words of Allah…” Koran 1:64

    “…And none can alter the words of Allah…” Koran 6:34

    “…But you will never find in the way of Allah any change, and you will never find in the way of Allah any alteration.” Koran 35:43

    “…And never will you find in the way of Allah any change.” Koran 48:23

    By being selective, therefore, in his adherence to Koranic commandments, the bad Muslim is not only violating the definition of a Muslim as expressly set out by Allah, he is also being sceptical of Allah’s words that are the exposition of everything, are inviolable, and the eternal truth.

    The bad Muslim is a hypocrite and he knows it.

    In time, the bad Muslim, for fear of antagonising others, most notably the Liberals, expunges from his system the verses that he – through societal pressure or epiphany – finds uncomfortable or unsuitable to his way of life. It is as though the said verses do not exist, that the all-merciful Allah did not utter them.

    In instances where it is difficult to expunge from memory the problematic verses, the bad Muslim begins to rationalise the choice he has made, and predictably the rationalisation is in the form of the excuse called Interpretation – the interpretation of Koranic verses, and the interpretation of Islam itself (Salafi, Sufi, Koraniyun, Ahmadiyya, Zahiri, Wahhabi, et cetera). However, some verses are as clear in their meaning as would be the phrase, “The Earth revolves round the Sun”. These verses are impossible to interpret in more than one way. Hence, their purging from collective bad Muslim memory. Also of note is the fact that the bad Muslim does not object to the alleged misinterpretation of all Koranic verses but, rather, just the ones that he is loathed to follow or finds embarrassing to recollect among his liberal friends. Neither is he willing to accept that the verses he claims have been misinterpreted by good Muslims, have been "misinterpreted" by an overwhelming majority of Koranic scholars. It is not just the ‘good Muslims’ but also the founding fathers of Islam with whose patronage the religion spread in the first place, by way of the Hadith and other seminal works.

    The result of all this is that the bad Muslim jumps the queue to call as Islamic extremists all those who follow and adhere to the Koranic verses he finds egregious. Here, it is not the infidel but, rather, the bad Muslim who is Islamophobic, which is to say that he fears Islam; he fears to make public the word of the Holy Koran in its entirety.

    The bad Muslim is Islamophobic and he knows it.

    Consequently, a situation arises where both, the good Muslim and the bad Muslim are reading, admiring, preaching, and proselytising the exact same book. In scientific parlance, this is akin to a Darwinist and a Creationist reading, admiring, preaching, and proselytising The Origin of the Species, albeit with one difference: a Darwinist is not a Creationist but – except for the definitions expounded here – a Muslim is a Muslim.

    What is their crime, the good Muslims must wonder – “We are only asking our brothers and fellow Muslims to follow the order of the Allah through the Holy Koran. Why are the bad Muslims getting so upset and calling us extremists and radicals and fundamentalists? Yes, we are fundamentalists and we say so openly. Because we adhere to the fundamentals. Don't they?”

    (They don't.)

    Of course, the good Muslims are right. Take the example of the dress code. How a Muslim woman is to behave, how she is to dress, has been expressly ordained by Allah:

    “And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their head-covers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers, their brothers' sons, their sisters' sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers that you might succeed.” Koran 24:31

    “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.” Koran 33:59

    “O children of Adam, We have bestowed upon you clothing to conceal your private parts and as adornment. But the clothing of righteousness - that is best. That is from the signs of Allah that perhaps they will remember.” Koran 7:26

    To be sure, the bad Muslims try to push the theory that these verses can be interpreted differently, and that the Holy Koran does not order women to dress in the manner described above. Sadly for them, hundreds of Islamic scholars and academicians over centuries have held the opposite view. The Earth does indeed revolve around the sun.

    Take the following verse. “Indeed, those who like that immorality should be spread [or publicised] among those who have believed will have a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter. And Allah knows and you do not know.” Koran 24:19

    The operative words here are ‘spreading of immorality’ (many a time also read as ‘indecency’, for example in the Islamic scholar Arthur Arberry’s translation of the Holy Koran, widely considered to be the most accurate and definitive of all translations).

    Because Allah warns of a painful punishment for those who spread immorality or indecency, it follows that failure to dress in a manner as suggested by Allah constitutes indecency and immorality.

    The fact remains that a practicing Muslim who believes in the Sharia and every single word that there is in the Holy Koran, is a good Muslim, while a practising Muslim who sings, dances, plays sports, drinks, fornicates, supports Muslim women who reject the burqa or the Hijab, can draw a portrait of whosoever he wishes to, is gay, and is fine with all his fellow Muslims being all of the above, is a bad Muslim.

    Dr Zakir Naik is a good Muslim. He believes resolutely in the Holy Koran and the Book of Hudood and he quotes the verses and their interpretation precisely as how they are meant to be quoted and interpreted. The Book of Hudood, for example, carries a list of punishments – stoning, flogging, beating, and hacking. President Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan implemented a few as ordinances back in 1979. He was a good Muslim. All he did was to apply in a limited way the will of Allah. But he was pilloried and criticised for this by the bad Muslims of Pakistan; still is. Indeed, most bad Muslims attribute the downward spiralling of Pakistan into a hellhole because of the implementation of the Hudood Ordinances. But they blame Zia for implementing them, not Allah for ordering them.

    Snare the fundamentalists, spare the fundamentals. This has been the modus operandi of the bad Muslims and their many cohorts who populate the left-liberal and pseudo-liberal caverns.

    So we have bad Muslims proclaiming blasphemy as Pakistan's New Religion, conveniently ignoring the following commandment of the Old Religion:

    "Those who abuse Allah & His Messenger, Allah has cursed them in this world & the Hereafter & prepared for them a humiliating punishment." Koran 33:57

    So we have bad Muslims ridiculing the volte-face of AIMIM counsellor Waris Pathan who chanted Ganpati Bappa Morya, an exhortation for a Hindu God, conveniently forgetting that the Holy Koran absolutely forbids worshipping or praising any idol or God other than Allah (5:72; 4:48; 4:116; 6:56; 17:22).

    So we have bad Muslims condemning the AIMPLB stand on homosexuality, conveniently overlooking that the Holy Koran absolutely condemns homosexuality (26:165-66; 7:80-85) and that homosexuality is illegal in 24 of the 27 countries where Islam is the State Religion.

    So we have bad Muslims deriding those condemning inter-religious marriage , conveniently forgetting that the Holy Koran absolutely forbids (2:221; 60:10) the marriage of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim man.

    So we have bad Muslims berating the Kerala Congress leader MM Hassan for claiming women are impure during menstruation , conveniently disregarding that Allah expressly forbids menstruating women from touching the Holy Koran (56:79, 2:222). Indeed, Islam not only forbids menstruating women from touching the Koran, there is a ban on them for reciting a complete verse, entering a mosque, doing salat, performing tawaf, undertaking a fast, or having sex.

    So we have bad Muslims condemning persecution of Ahmadiyyas, conveniently ignoring that the Holy Koran absolutely forbids heresy (2:217; 5:53-54).

    There exist innumerable such examples where the bad Muslims snare the fundamentalists but spare the fundamentals, so much so that the condemnation of those who submit totally, by those who submit selectively has become the norm. The world accepts gladly the bad Muslims but not the good Muslims.

    As with Zia, Dr Naik, too, has fallen victim to the duplicity of the bad Muslims who – it begs repeating – read the same book but their Islamophobia prevents them from publicising some of its verses. This is both wrong and unfair. Dr Naik has every right to preach and make public all verses of the holy book, including the ones the bad Muslims would like the world to forget. Defaming or stopping Naik from quoting what is written in the Koran is like preventing Dawkins from quoting what is written in The Origin of Species. Naik, like Dawkins, is the medium. That both quote, and quote exactly and precisely from different books, is not their fault.

    Take the subject of sexual intercourse outside of marriage. Dr Naik has his view, which is that fornicators are to be flogged a hundred lashes. But this is not his view; this is the view of Allah:

    “The [unmarried] woman or [unmarried] man found guilty of sexual intercourse - lash each one of them with a hundred lashes, and do not be taken by pity for them in the religion of Allah, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a group of the believers witness their punishment.” Koran 24:2-12

    In the language of today’s world, the bad Muslims are seen as the moderates while the good Muslims, the extremists. And for any ideology to work, moderates must believe in it. The belief of moderates provides a cushion for the extremists. No ideology can sustain itself for long if only the extremists believe in it, for then it becomes a cult, and cults die. Moderates populate the caverns, extremists the caves. Moderates wield the pen, extremists the gun.

    Moderates battle non-violently, extremists violently.

    Moderates believe in the good passages and the extremists believe in the bad. But it is the same book and that is what matters to the extremists.

    Like a virus that needs a human cell to survive and thrive, an extremist needs a moderate or else he will die, become extinct. If only the bad Muslim were to realise this simple fact, the virus can be thwarted. But how? There is a problem and it is intractable (because of which the world gladly accepts the hypocrisy of the bad Muslim). The problem is this, that while it would be cathartic for the bad Muslims to acknowledge their hypocrisy in enthusiastically recommending a book that, among other things, condemns homosexuality, denounces unbelievers, vetoes heresy, punishes adultery, and advocates wife-beating, beyond catharsis lies apostasy. Beyond apostasy, death.

    There are multiple verses in the Koran that warn against apostasy:

    “Indeed, those who have believed then disbelieved, then believed, then disbelieved, and then increased in disbelief - never will Allah forgive them, nor will He guide them to a way.” Koran 4:137

    “Whoever disbelieves in Allah after his belief except for one who is forced [to renounce his religion] while his heart is secure in faith. But those who [willingly] open their breasts to disbelief, upon them is wrath from Allah, and for them is a great punishment.” Koran 16:16

    “And whoever of you reverts from his religion [to disbelief] and dies while he is a disbeliever - for those, their deeds have become worthless in this world and the Hereafter, and those are the companions of the Fire, they will abide therein eternally.” Koran 2:217

    These warnings have subsequently been consecrated unambiguously and multiple times in the form of death penalty in the Hadith (the second most important scripture for Muslims after the Holy Koran). And as Allah says so himself in the Holy Koran, both He and the Prophet are to be obeyed:

    “And obey Allah and obey the Messenger and beware. And if you turn away - then know that upon Our Messenger is only [the responsibility for] clear notification.” Koran 5:92

    “Indeed, those who disbelieve in Allah and His messengers and wish to discriminate between Allah and His messengers and say, "We believe in some and disbelieve in others," and wish to adopt a way in between - Those are the disbelievers, truly. And we have prepared for the disbelievers a humiliating punishment.” Koran 4:15

    Consequently, Apostasy carries the death sentence in most Islamic countries.

    The spread of religion has many reasons behind it: proselytising of non-believers, conquests of non-believers, coercive or forced conversions of non-believers, propagation through population growth among believers, and cost to believers for abandoning their belief. But how does this fit in to the cosy world of the bad Muslim?

    Preachers and proselytisers, of any religion, preach and proselytise primarily what they believe to be the virtuous and good parts of their religion. The flock must not be intimidated if it is to be increased, and religion, rightly or wrongly, must be shown as compassionate, benevolent, non-patriarchal, non-misogynist, and non-violent. The spread of Christianity in Africa stands testament to this simple fact. Islam is no exception. To take one example, here is what Allah has to say on how a husband should treat his wife:

    “Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.” Koran 4:34

    This and many other verses regarding women – their clothing, appearance, behaviour in public and at home, their share of property and in jurisprudence – are not discussed by proselytisers and bad Muslims when recounting the rights and status of women in Islam.

    To take another example, the Koranic verse: “To kill one innocent is to kill entire humanity”, is perhaps the most quoted verse in Islam, and one that has undoubtedly drawn countless into its fold. From clerics to Barack Obama to Shah Rukh Khan to Salman Khan, everyone quotes this verse to expound the compassionate nature of Islam, without realising – deliberately or otherwise – that he is not only quoting a truncated version of the said verse but also misquoting it.

    Here is the verse in its entirety:

    “Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land - it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one - it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors.” Koran 5:32

    The verse, as can be seen, is a decree upon the Jews [The Children of Israel]; many scholars believe this verse has its antecedence in the Talmud. Further, its virtuosity is conditional [“unless”]. This becomes clear from the nature of the very next verse:

    “Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment.” Koran 5:33

    Intriguing that in this case the bad Muslims, forever cautioning the world on wrong interpretations of Koranic verses, have no qualms about not only wrongly interpreting a Koranic verse but also wrongly quoting it.

    Protected or not by the bad Muslim, preached or not the truncated verses, it cannot be denied that Islam has spread exponentially since its inception. That said, it is also a fact that the prescribed punishment for apostasy makes it impossible for Muslims to openly leave Islam, and therefore it is a religion whose followers cannot, like the followers of other religions, decrease in numbers.

    It is to be emphasised that the attributes of goodness and badness have been discussed expressly in the context of a Muslim adhering to what is written in the book that he follows and swears by. Allah himself is quite clear on who a good Muslim is. Further, if a book is emphatically proclaimed to be the final word on truth, and accepted thus by all its followers – good as well as bad Muslims, can one then be selective about its contents? If yes, then it is incumbent upon the follower to mention what he disagrees with in the book, and what proclamation of Allah he sees as untrue, keeping in mind the words of Allah that the Koran is the eternal truth (as shown above) and without contradiction:

    “Then do they not reflect upon the Koran? If it had been from [any] other than Allah, they would have found within it much contradiction.” Koran 4:82

    Is there a scale that measures the inherent goodness or badness of a human being? It is indeed true, that the moral scale of a society varies all across the world. However, is it to be overlooked that there is a universal moral scale for a human society that one need aspire for, and in many societies achieve even? Given a choice between living in Saudi Arabia or Sweden, which country would a bad Muslim choose?

    A good Muslim need not be a bad human being and conversely a bad Muslim a good human being. Goodness and badness are moral judgements. One can be a bad believer, but to see someone as a bad human being involves factoring in a multitude of actions and character traits, with his good or bad belief but a minuscule subset. It is also a fact that attributing positivity to someone, by calling him a good human being is more often than not a better judgment than attributing negativity to someone, by calling him a bad human being. A person is presumed innocent until guilty, and assumption of guilt, especially a sweeping assumption, is unwise.

    The badness of a human being, or indeed of a State, becomes an issue only when it begins to affect their actions. The goodness of a human being is seldom an issue. Much more central, therefore, than the assertion that a good believer is a bad human being is the assertion that a bad believer is a good human being.

    By definition a liberal cannot be intolerant of a liberal value or a set of values. A human being who believes, and then enforces, the view that fellow human beings cannot sing, dance, play sports, drink, fornicate, be homosexual, and wear what they want to – is this a good human being or a bad human being? And if a nation state believes, and then enforces, the view that human beings cannot sing, dance, play sports, drink, fornicate, be homosexual, and wear what they want to – is this a good nation state or a bad nation state? What do the bad Muslims think?

    Islam is a close corporation and the distinction that it makes between Muslims and non-Muslims is a very real, very positive and very alienating distinction. The brotherhood of Islam is not the universal brotherhood of man. It is brotherhood of Muslims for Muslims only. There is a fraternity, but its benefit is confined to those within that corporation. For those who are outside the corporation, there is nothing but contempt and enmity. The second defect of Islam is that it is a system of social self-government and is incompatible with local self-government, because the allegiance of a Muslim does not rest on his domicile in the country which is his but on the faith to which he belongs. To the Muslim ibi bene ibi patria [Where it is well with me, there is my country] is unthinkable. Wherever there is the rule of Islam, there is his own country. In other words, Islam can never allow a true Muslim to adopt India as his motherland and regard a Hindu as his kith and kin.

    The passage above is not in quotes, and might therefore give the impression that these are the author's words. They are not. These are the exact words of Dr BR Ambedkar, a man appropriated by the bad Muslims even though his views on Islam, that the above passage is but one instance of, are never considered, respected, or publicised by them.

    The bad Muslims berate and condemn the good Muslims while at the same time celebrate Aurangzeb and Tipu Sultan, two of the most communally bigoted mass-murderers this world has ever seen. This may seem contradictory at first glance, because there cannot be finer examples of good Muslims than Aurangzeb and Tipu Sultan so far as their complete submission to the will of Allah is concerned, but it is not. The bad Muslims have airbrushed the crimes and zealotry of these two men to such an extent that they now appear moderate and kind. This, in effect, is the catharsis the bad Muslims have undergone so as to anoint a few heroes – the wrong kind of catharsis, a hollow, specious catharsis, but a catharsis in their eyes, nonetheless.

    The bad Muslims bemoan tyranny – real or imaginary – of the State while at the same time silently accept what they find to be tyrannical in their religion. For them, then, to balk at the concept of a Theocratic State is hypocrisy of the highest order. But an increasingly interconnected world makes it impossible to not be informed of one's hypocrisy. And toast are those who decide to hide and isolate themselves from this truth.

    Is there a way out, given that reform is impossible? There is, and it lies, paradoxically, in the evolutionary endowment of qualities such as empathy, kindness, remorse, and reconciliation. There are bad believers in every religion. Liberalism, tolerance, open-mindedness are entropically driven; they are the ways of the living – diversity through genetic mixing lies at the cornerstone of the survival of a species. It is sanctioned by the Theory of Evolution. It cannot be reversed.

    Religion, on the other hand, demands order, promotes exclusivity not diversity. But it knows humans only too well; it knows the ways of the living; hence the overarching warnings of sin, immorality, depravity, debauchery, hell, and how to avoid it. What, on the other hand, does the holy book The Origin of the Species tell you to avoid?

    Human beings are like molecules, in a way – constantly colliding but inherently desirous of settling to what is their energy-minimum. All the more reason, then, for us to acknowledge and cherish that the world is peaceful in large measure because to be a bad believer can also mean to be a good human being.


    Author's note: A few passages in this article were published earlier as part of the essay: Of Mohammad Shami and the Good Bad Muslim.

    Anand Ranganathan is the author of three novels, most recently of The Rat Eater (co-authored; Juggernaut Books). A product of St Stephen’s College, Delhi, and Pembroke College, Cambridge, he is a scientist based in Delhi.

    Get Swarajya in your inbox.