Potemra’s Koran—Glossed in Translation

“New” Koran Translation?

Meet the New Gloss

———Same As the Old Gloss!

Mike Potemra brings to our attention a new Penguin translation of the Koran by Tarif Khalidi, and cites verses 2:177/178 as  examples of both “very clear contemporary English,” relative to the earlier Yusuf Ali translation (2:177, 2:178), and more importantly, “a pretty good summary of mainstream monotheistic thought and theistic ethics.”  But Potemra’s own treacly gloss on 2:177/178 amounts to nothing more than uninformed wishful thinking that  ignores a millennium of both mainstream classical and modern tafsir (Koranic commentaries) which elucidate the meaning of these verses for Muslims, past and present. Moreover, these mainstream interpretations have in turn been codified into the religio-political code of Islam, the Shari’a, or Islamic Law, “divine” rules for both civil and religious life deemed immutable, and beyond criticism.

 Koranic verses 2:177/178 initiate a larger series of injunctions (through verse 2:203) which legislate on sundry matters: zakat (almsgiving), the Ramadan fast, the Hajj, and jihad. Koran 2:178 for example, establishes the law of retaliation (qisas) for murder: equal recompense must be given for the life of the victim, which can take the form of blood money (diyah): a payment to compensate for the loss suffered.

Great classical commentators of the Koran—including Qurtubi (d.1273), Ibn Kathir (d. 1373), and Suyuti (d. 1505)—concur that the opening statement of verse 2:177 (“It is not righteousness That ye turn your faces Towards East or West; But it is righteousness –To believe in Allah”) addresses, and refutes, the Jews and Christians, while affirming the exclusive “righteousness” and supremacy of Islam. Qurtubi notes, “The Jews faced west towards Jerusalem and the Christians east toward where the sun rose…they were told that was not where true goodness lay.” Ibn Kathir repeats this observation, adding “…those who acquire the qualities mentioned in the Ayah [verse] will indeed have embraced all aspects of Islam, and implemented all types of righteousness—believeing in Allah, that He is the only God worthy of worship, and believing in the angels, the emissaries between Allah and His Messengers.” Suyuti confirms these previous exegeses, stating plainly “Goodness does not lie in turning your faces in [the]prayer to the East or to the West. This was revealed to refute the Jews and Christians in their claim.” He adds, “Rather those with true goodness are those who believe in Allah…and fighting in the way of Allah [i.e., Jihad] in particular.”

Contemporary exegeses reiterate these interpretations of Koran 2:177. For example, Ma’ariful Qur’an, written by Maulana Mufti Muhammad Shafi (1898-1976), former Grand Mufti of (pre-Partition) India, and founder of Darul Ulum Karachi, is the best known Koranic commentary in Urdu. A graduate of the Darul Ulum Deoband, Maulana Mufti Muhammad Shafi taught for twenty-seven years until 1943. During this period, approximately thirty thousand students from all over the world experienced his discourses. He also managed the Darul Ifta department of Darul Ulum Deoband, where juristic questions from across the world were discussed, and served as the Grand Mufti of India prior to the Partition of India. After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Mufti Muhammad Shafi moved to Karachi, where he established Darul Ulum Karachi in 1950. After only a few months, it had more than two thousand students. He also wrote over three hundred books. In addition to his literary works, Mufti Muhammad Shafi   broadcasted tafsir of the Koran on Radio Pakistan for a number of years.

Mufti Shafi’s gloss on 2:177 from Ma’ariful Qur’an notes when, “…the House of Allah at Makkah [Mecca] was made the Qiblah [object/direction of worship] of the Muslims…the Jews and Christians…who were much too eager to find fault with Islam and Muslims, were stirred and they started coming up with all sorts of objections against Islam and the Holy Prophet [Muhammad].” He concludes that 2:177 addresses, “Jews, Christians, and Muslims at the same time, the sense being that real righteousness and merit lies in obedience to Allah Almighty”—a modern affirmation of Islamic supremacism consistent with the classical exegesis on this verse.

More ominous are the classical exegeses on Koran 2:178 which meld the Islamic supremacist conception of 2:177 to the discriminatory punishment of non-Muslims relative to Muslims for the crime of murder. Qurtubi’s gloss maintains, “…a Muslim is not killed in retaliation for an unbeliever since the Prophet said, ‘A Muslim is not killed in retaliation for an unbeliever’ (al-Bukhari [Volume 9, Book 83, Number 50], one of the two most important  canonical hadith collections).” Ibn Kathir reiterates this notion in his commentary citing the same hadith, and adding “No opinion that opposes this ruling could stand correct, nor is there an authentic Hadith to contradict it.”

These consensus principles, as elucidated by renowned mainstream classical and modern Koranic exegetes, have also been codified into the Shari’a—Islamic Law, and resonate, alarmingly, in our era. Thus under the Shari’a, the amount of compensation varies depending on the identity of the victim. ‘Umdat al-Salik (Reliance of the Traveller), a Shari’a manual that the erstwhile Vatican of Sunni Islam since 793 C.E., Cairo’s prestigious Al-Azhar University, presently certifies as conforming to the “practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni community,” states that the payment for killing a woman is half of that to be paid for a man and for killing a Jew or Christian one-third that paid for killing a male Muslim (o4.9). The modern Shi’ite perspective is concordant. Sultanhussein Tabandeh, the Iranian Shi’ite leader of a prominent Sufi Order, wrote an “Islamic perspective” on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to Professor Eliz Sanasarian’s important study of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic, Tabandeh’s tract became “…the core ideological work upon which the Iranian government…based its non-Muslim policy.”  It is critical to understand that Tabandeh’s key views on non-Muslims, were implemented “…almost verbatim in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” In essence, Tabandeh simply reaffirms the sacralized inequality of non-Muslims relative to Muslims, under the Shari’a, stating for example,

Since Islam regards non-Muslims as on a lower level of belief and conviction, if a Muslim kills a non-Muslim…then his punishment must not be the retaliatory death, since the faith and conviction he possesses is loftier than that of the man slain…Again, the penalties of a non-Muslim guilty of fornication with a Muslim woman are augmented because, in addition to the crime against morality, social duty and religion, he has committed sacrilege, in that he has disgraced a Muslim and thereby cast scorn upon the Muslims in general, and so must be executed.

 Islam and its peoples must be above the infidels, and never permit non-Muslims to acquire lordship over them. Since the marriage of a Muslim woman to an infidel husband (in accordance with the verse quoted: ‘Men are guardians form women’) means her subordination to an infidel, that fact makes the marriage void

The 1990 Cairo Declaration, or “Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Islam”—not Islamism—was drafted and ratified by all the Muslim member nations of the Organization of the Islamic—not Islamist—Conference (OIC), a 57 state collective including every Islamic nation on earth. The OIC, currently headed by Turkey’s Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, thus represents the entire Muslim ummah (or global community), and is the largest single voting bloc in the United Nations.

Its preamble and concluding articles (24 and 25) make plain that the OIC’s Cairo Declaration is designed to supersede Western conceptions of human rights as enunciated, for example, in the US Bill of Rights. The preamble repeats another Koranic injunction affirming Islamic supremacism, (Koran 3:110): “Reaffirming the civilizing and historical role of the Islamic Ummah which Allah made the best nation…” The gravely negative implications of this  Islamic Law (Shari’a)-based document (“There shall be no crime or punishment except as provided for in the Shari’a”) are most apparent in its transparent rejection of freedom of conscience in Article 10, while articles 19 and 22 reiterate Shari’a principles stated throughout the document, which clearly apply to the “punishment”—death—for so-called  “apostates” from Islam.

The Cairo Declaration—entirely consistent with Islamic Law—also introduces unacceptable discrimination against non-Muslims and women, while sanctioning the legitimacy of dehumanizing, Shari’a-compliant punishments, from flogging, to mutilation, and stoning.

Contra Mike Potemra, “[T]he ideals of 2:177”—their apotheosis being yet another statement of Islamic supremacism—are epitomized by the sacralized inequality which the Shari’a prescribes for non-Muslims according to the “law” of retaliation, highlighted in verse 2:178. Potemra’s invented, de-contextualized, and completely misguided “Koranic exegesis” is punctuated by groundless ideological claims which express his own good intentions. This stubbornly delusional approach ignores the major living doctrinal issues—rooted in the Koran—which require wrenching, mea culpa-based reforms initiated by unapologetic Muslims, if a modern Islam truly compatible with Western, Judeo-Christian standards of human rights and dignity is to ever emerge.


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