By Dr. Rudolph Ware
The African Qurʾān PART II: Fighting Pride & Intolerance (See Part I Here)
“There is no compulsion in religion, right-guidance is distinct from error.”(Qurʾān 2:256)
Many Muslims these days love forcing their beliefs down others throats, and then assigning them to the Hellfire when they reject them. Are we more concerned with being right, or being reverent? Are we more interested in policing the borders of Muslim identity, or getting closer to God by providing benefit to the children of Adam?
Juz’ three of the Holy Qurʾān should provide sufficient protection against intolerance. One of its first verses (quoted above) reminds us that faith is a matter of individual conscience. This verse was revealed in Medina to prevent the companions from forcing Islam on their non-Muslim children. It reminds us, in the words of the great West African scholar, Shaykh Tijani ‘Ali Cissé, that when you force faith you gain not a believer, but a hypocrite.
The very first ayah of juz’ three (Q 2:253) is a reminder that, as the seal, Muḥammad was the last in a long line of prophets, and that the religion of Islam came to end the rivalry, posturing, and enmity between peoples seeking to lay exclusive claim their legacies. Later, in Sura Ali Imran (Q 3:110) God clearly affirms the primacy of the Prophet’s community—“You are the best community brought forth unto the people—while also specifying that among the other monotheists there are believers.
They are not all alike. Among the People of the Book is an upright community who recite God’s signs in the watches of the night and prostrate.(113) They believe in God and the Last Day and they enjoin right and forbid wrong, and hasten to good deeds. And those are among the righteous (sāliḥin). (114) And whatever good they do, they will not be denied it. And God is Knowing of the reverent (mutaqīn) (115)
Two of the highest virtues that God mentions in the Qurʾān —righteousness and reverence (taqwa)—are directly attributed to the People of the Book. It is simple religious chauvinism—exactly the kind that God reproached earlier communities for—that prevents Muslims from acknowledging the Truth that still remains in the paths of Moses and Jesus. For Muslims the message should be clear: You do not have a monopoly on God, and previous communities were judged for dividing the believers.
Arguments and condemnations are rooted in pride and serve our nafs (ego/self) not God. Pride is always self-indulgent and it is always in the fire. In an authentic ḥadith qudsi God says: “Pride (kibriyya) is my mantle and magnificence (ʿaẓama) is my garment, and I shall throw into Hell whosoever competes with me in either one.” No one but God has a right to be pride or self-importance.
Āyat-ul-Kursi (2:255), also in this juz’, most clearly communicates the proof of God’s singular right to pride. Often called the ‘throne verse,’ its subject, is not God’s ʿarsh (throne), which is mentioned ten times in the Quran, but rather his seat, which is understood by many exegetes to refer to ‘the seat of knowledge.’ Incidentally, with “the African Qurʾān” in mind, I should mention that ‘the Lord of the Throne’ as a reference to the uncreated Creator appears in Ancient Egyptian pyramid texts 1000 years before the Bible: “This is the sacred God…lord of the throne…sacred soul (or Holy Spirit) who came into being in the beginning, the great God who lives by right and truth…the being in whom every god exists, the One of One, the Creator.”
These date from the period around 2000 BCE, and the reference to God as the One of One, indicates that perhaps the doctrine of Divine unicity (tawḥīd) taught by Prophet Idrīs (peace be upon him) had not been forgotten in that period. Idrīs, thought by most scholars to have been Egyptian, and the first of the Prophets to teach by the Pen, almost certainly taught God’s religion in hieroglyphics.
Of course the Qurʾānic articulation of tawḥīd is the unparalleled expression of truths that came in earlier revelations:
God – no god but He, the Living, the Sustainer. Neither slumber nor sleep overtakes Him. For Him is what is in the heavens and what is on the Earth. Who can intercede with Him except by His permission? He knows what lies before them and what comes after them, and they encompass nothing of His knowledge except what He wills. His Kursi extends over the heavens and the earth, and maintaining them tires Him not. And He is the High, the Magnificent.
Āyatul-Kursi ends with names that proclaim God’s lofty ascendancy (al-ʿAlī) and magnificence (al-ʿAẓīm). It is a perfectly self-sufficient Divine discourse on God’s transcendent Majesty.
Pride is only for the Lord of the Throne.
As the great Senegalese scholar Shaykh Ahmadu Bamba (d. 1927—May God be pleased with him) reminds us, thinking we are better than others because of our origins is the creed of Iblīs. Racism is literally a satanic religion.
You are not, dear brother, above anyone. You know neither when you will die nor what tomorrow may bring. The Book of God warns of stern punishment for those guilty of pride. It was this that brought low the cursed Iblīs—we seek refuge in our Lord from both [Satan and pride]. You were once but a fetid drop of sperm, now a carrier of filth, and you will end as a stinking corpse, odious and rotting. You are, without exception, the children of Adam, and it is from dust that you were created.
The Qurʾān reminds us of our humble origins all the time, but it also says that God loves the children of Adam and Eve. Each and every time the Qurʾān says God loves (Allāh yuḥib) followed immediately by an object, that object is a collective noun referring to people. You’ll notice that Ali Imran, contains more references to those whom Allah loves than any other sura.
Another great Senegalese scholar, Shaykh Ibrahim Niass (d. 1975-May God be pleased with him) provides another antidote for religious intolerance in his explanation of ayah 19 from juz’ three: ‘Truly, the religion with Allah is Islam.” This ayah, often misused today to deny other faiths, is a reminder that all of the Prophets taught islam (submission):
The shariʿa with which the Messengers have been sent is built upon tawḥīd. Submission is the religion of God, which is accepted for all His creation from the beginning to the end of times. Even if they have differed in some of the modes of worship, they have nonetheless all been in agreement in the belief in God the Unique, reverence of God and having compassion towards his creation.
Here, Shaykh Ibrahim echoes prophetic tradition:
“You will never have faith until you love each other. Shall I tell you what will make you love each other?” They said, “Of course, O Messenger of Allah.” The Prophet said, “Spread peace between yourselves. By the One in whose hand is my soul, you will not enter Paradise until you are merciful.” They said, “O Messenger of Allah, all of us are merciful.” The Prophet said, “Verily, it is not mercy between yourselves, but rather it is mercy in general, it is mercy in general.”
The Prophet encouraged us to be merciful in general, to exercise compassion with all, not just among ourselves. So why then do so many of us, especially those of us with non-Muslim backgrounds, indulge in a religious superiority complex? Pride stinks. People can smell it at distance, and they will hold their nose and turn away when they do. The discussion of how to cure pride, by the great Nigerian scholar ʿUthman dan Fodio (d. 1817—May God be pleased with him) should be required reading for all modern Muslims.
“You are the best community brought forth unto the people.” (Q 3:110) should be read as a challenge, not a point of pride. We will live up to it through love for God and His Messenger (Q 3:31), but also love for our fellow human beings. To do so, we must draw on our own experience as Black people in America, but we should also not ignore where we come from. The wisdom of so many great West African scholars is in their focus on scholarship, service, and spirituality. They provide—for our people in particular, and the Muslim community more broadly—an excellent model for the peaceful spread of Islam in America.
In part III, we will focus on overcoming the enemies of our spiritual progress.
As a complement to his discussion on “the African Qur’an” Dr. Ware offers the following an aid for spiritual growth, during Ramadan and beyond (Link Here)
 Cheikh Tidiane Ali Cissé, Islam: Religion of Peace, 25. http://soutilaahi.com/eminence/
 Understood by some to refer to all Muslims, and by others as referring specifically to the Sahaba.
 Quran 9:129, 17:42, 21:22, 23:86, 23:116, 27:26, 40:15, 43:82, 81:20, 85:15
 E.A. Wallis Budge, (Book of the Dead: The Papyrus of Ani in the British Museum, the Egyptian Text with Interlinear Transliteration and Translation, a running translation, introduction, etc. A & B Books, Brooklyn, New York.), lxxxii-llxxxiii. I’ve been able to identify versions of at least 50 of the 99 names in Ancient Egyptian pyramid texts from the period before the children of Israel entered Egypt.
 al-ṭāwabīn—the repentant (2:222), al-mutaṭahirīn and al-muṭahirīn—those who purify themselves or have candor (2:222, 9:108), al-mutaqīn—the God-conscious (3:76, 9:4)
al- al-muḥsinīn—those who do what is beautiful (2:195, 3:134, 3:148, 5:13, 5:93)
al-ṣābirīn—the patient (3:146) muqsiṭīn—the just (60:8)al-mutawakkilīn—those who trust in Him (3:159)
Dr. Rudolph Ware is a historian of Africa and Islam. Ware earned his Ph.D. in history in 2004 from the University of Pennsylvania where he was trained in African History, African-American History, and Islamic Intellectual History. He is Associate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor as well as Director for IKHLAS Research Institute and the author of The Walking Quran: Islamic Education, Embodied knowledge, and History in West Africa.
Kori | June 9, 2016
Yes! This is an excellent foundation for interfaith work.