By Murad Ali Baig
As in all religions the traditions of Islam were changed frequently over the centuries by a number of passionate clerics who moved the Islamic Sharia from the mostly peaceable words of Muhammad to the angry rhetoric of the Taliban and IS. This continuous shift is clear from main milestones of the religion:
570 AD. Birth of the prophet Muhammad.
- Muhammad receives the divine revelation from the angel Gabriel.
- The Hijra. Muhammad is forced to migrate from Mecca to Medina to mark the beginning of the Muslim calendar.
- Death of Muhammad.
C640. The Khalif Abu Bakr orders the compilation of the words of Muhammad. The first Quran was declared official by Khalif Omar 16 years after the death of Muhammad. All other records were burnt.
The Prophet wanted better rights for women and children and never demanded the veil or hijab nor easy divorce but a long line of chauvinistic Muslim clerics made Islam increasingly hostile to women.
- Assassination of Ali the fourth Khalif and Muhammad’s nephew and son in law Ali marks the beginning of Shia faction.
- The third Khalif Uthman announces the definitive Medina version of the Quran probably written by Zaid Ibn Thabit 33 years after the prophet. All other copies of Muhammad’s words are gathered and burned.
- Birth of Ibn Ishaq the first biographer about the life of Muhammad. There is therefore no record of the prophet’s life till 72 years after his death. 142 years later Al Tabari elaborated on it. The huge time gap means that very little accurate information is really known about the early years of Muhammad and of Islam or of the `rightly guided Khalifs’.
Two hundred years after the death of Muhammad the second most sacred Islamic book, the Hadis (or Hadith) was compiled by several pious scholars to guide Muslims to not only follow the words of the Prophet in the Quran but also examples from his life. Scholars like Al Bukhari tried to trace the descendents of the prophet’s family and reconstruct the stories of his life. Bukhari however personally rejected 99% of the stories that were offered to him. Restrictions on women like the veil only now become an Islamic requirement. The Prophet’s smallest actions now become acts of piety for many Muslims.
750 – 1258. Abbasid Caliphate. The Islamic empire containing many diverse races became a complex imperial society that needed new legal authorities like the Qazi (magistrate) concerned with legal matters, functions of the police, taxes and the status of non-Muslim subjects. Islamic law now split into six schools.
In the tenth century the Jewish Torah (Tawraat) was adopted and the Jewish sins of blasphemy, heresy, witchcraft, dietary restrictions, etc., became Islamic sins. Muslim clerics now began prescribing the Jewish death sentences by burning, stoning, beheading and strangulation even though the Quran had never prescribed any such punishments.
Four categories of punishment in Islamic law were later devised. These were Qisas – (retaliation as `an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth’ as in the Jewish Torah); Diyya – compensation paid to the heirs of a victim in blood money or ransom; Hadud – harsh pre determined punishments for severe crimes like murder, adultery, blasphemy, intoxication, idolatry or apostasy and Tazir – punishments given at the discretion of a Qazi.
The Christians launched their Crusades in 1098 and coined the concept of Holy War that united the budding Christian nations of Europe in a bloody conflict with the Muslim armies of Egypt and Turkey.
1256 (624 years after Muhammad’s death), after the bloody sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols, Ahmad ibn Tamiyya, a Muslim scholar, was driven out of Iraq and defined a new policy to divide the Islamic world. `Dar ul Islam’ (abode of Islam) and `Dar ul Harb’ (abode of disbelievers). He also redefined the word Jihad to mean a Holy War. He however died in a Muslim prison.
- The defeat of the Turkish armies outside Vienna marked the end of Islamic expansion and the beginning of European power that was to soon dominate the world and push Muslim countries backwards into increasingly narrow minded orthodoxy.
In the nineteenth century Islam was again hijacked by Mohammad Abd Al Wahhab who started the Sunni Wahhabiya movement. It accepted the Quran and Hadis but opposed all innovations, superstitions and deviances with a very narrow puritanical and legalistic form. They considered the veneration of pirs, the intercession of Imams, religious holidays, and other devotional acts as heresies and condemned music, art and all celebrations. They even desecrated the tomb of Muhammad at Madina. With the support of the ibn Saud family they promoted this extreme form of Islam that later led to the Taliban, Al Qaida and IS.
- The Balfour declaration at the end of the First World War Britain callously divided the former Turkish territories. Israel became an independent country in 1948 and fought a series of bitter wars with Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria leading to an unending cycle of conflict ever since.
1991 and 2003. The American `War on Terror’ against Iraq and Afghanistan (2001) outraged many Muslims who considered these to be morally unjustified. The American CIA support for Saudi Arabia made them virtual allies in the creation of the radical Taliban. Later the Sunni ISIS attacked the Shia majorities in Syria and Iraq who were supported by a Shia Iran backed by Russia.
Like all religions Islam changed frequently over time. As many of the frequently irrational or violent laws of Judaism became sanctified in Islam Muslim clerics found them convenient to regiment their followers and restrict women’s rights with increasingly onerous regulations enforced by draconian punishments.
People forget that the Quran explicitly says that killing in the name of Islam is the opposite of Jihad and had expressly forbidden an attack on anyone who had offered no offence and that it is forbidden to harm or to kill women and children. Many do not know that it is also forbidden to take hostages or to torture or kill prisoners. Even suicide is forbidden. The Prophet had said that anyone who sets another on fire, even an ant, commits great sin and is destined to the fires of hell.