We would like to address two key issues (the use of Quranic verses out of context and the definition of Jihad) in the Saudi Arabia case that are very offensive to the Muslim students at HBS and play to many of the negative perceptions surrounding Islam and the Quran. There were several other inaccuracies, but we will focus our attention on these two principal concerns.
ISSUE 1: Mistranslation of the Quaran
The case (page 12) quotes a verse of the Quran: “Do not take the Jews and Christians for friends…..etc.” We have 2 comments about this quote:
1. The translation is incorrect in the literal sense. The Arabic word used in the Quran is “awleyaa” which means Allies (protectors), and not Friends “asdekaa.” The mistranslation alters the meaning considerably.
2. The Quran was not revealed as a list of teachings (like the Ten Commandments), but revealed as groups of verses usually in response to a question, situation or event that took place and needed clarification or correction. It is therefore important to read the complete collection of verses revealed together, and to do so with knowledge of the context under which they were revealed – otherwise it is difficult to understand what was meant by the revelation, since many of the teachings are situation-specific. The above verse was revealed as part of a several verses and to isolate it is not appropriate.
Specifically, the verses were revealed during a period of tribal conflict and the survival of the early Muslim community was under threat from belligerent pagan tribes who dominated 7th century Arabia. The Muslims had a treaty with Jewish and Christian tribes in Arabia for mutual protection. On the occasion of the verses, one of the non-Muslim tribes had violated the treaty and Ebada Ibnelsamet (a Muslim) went to the Prophet Mohammed and asked permission to be relieved from this treaty since it had been violated. At the same time Abdullah Bin Ubay Bin Saloul (another Muslim) heard this and argued that he did not want to break the treaty because it was very beneficial for his business. There were conflicting viewpoints among the Muslim community and thus these verses were revealed to the Prophet as guidance for this specific situation – a specific historical conflict.
Here is the correct translation of 5.51 and two verses that follow it:
o Muslims, do not take Jewish and Christian tribes [referred to only in this specific context] as allies; they are allies to themselves. Those Muslims who ally themselves with these non-Muslim tribes should join them. God does not guide those who disobey. (5.51). You will see those Muslims who harbor doubt in their hearts (about Islam) hurry to join the non-Muslims, saying, “We fear that we may be defeated.” May God bring victory [to the Muslim], or a command from God that causes them [those Muslims who had doubts about Islam] to regret their fears. (5.52). Muslims, do not ally yourself with those of the Jews and Christians (literally translated People of the Book) who mock and ridicule your religion, nor should you ally yourself with the non-believers. You [Muslims] shall worship God, if you truly believe. (5.57).
Words in [brackets] inserted by the HBS Muslims to provide explanatory detail.
ISSUE 2: Definition of Jihad
We would also like to address the casewriter’s incorrect interpretation of the concept of Jihad (page 2) and provide the Muslim perspective and definitions. The casewriter’s assessment that Jihad means one thing to most people, but to extremists it means “a struggle against other religions” is wrong. There are two types of Jihad in Islamic jurisprudence: jihad al-nafs (also called the “big jihad”), which is the struggle against a believer’s “lower self” (i.e. for moral perfection), and the jihad al-sughayr (“small jihad”), which is a struggle for the community’s self defense in the case of enemy attack.
[22:39] To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged;- and verily, God is most powerful for their aid;-
[8:61] But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in God. For He is One that heareth and knoweth (all things).
Those are the definitions – that’s it, nothing more. Yes, the concept has been distorted and used unscrupulously by many people to advance their political agendas. We would liken this to the Ku Klux Klan’s use of Christian/Biblical concepts to justify their racist views. But there is no mention of a violent struggle to displace other religions. In fact, the Quran teaches Muslims to be tolerant toward other faiths and nations, promoting harmony and freedom of religion.
[49:13] O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).
[2:256] Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from error: whoever rejects Tagut [anything worshipped besides God] and believes in God hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And God heareth and knoweth all things.
“Any attack on innocent people is unlawful and contrary to Shariah [Islamic law]. Muslims must safeguard the lives, honor and property of non-Muslims who are under their protection and with whom they have concluded peace agreements. Attacking them contradicts Shariah.”
Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdullah Al-Subail, imam of the Grand Mosque of Makkah and member of the Council of Senior Islamic Scholars, 12/04/01.
The word ‘Islam’ literally means peace and submission to God and a ‘Muslim’ is simply one who submits. There is deep respect in Islam for all people and particularly for the ‘People of the Book”‘ (Jews & Christians) since these three religions are based on the concept of one God and are all derived from the same historical lineage and tradition. Book-bearing prophets such as Jesus and Moses are held in the same regard as Prophet Mohammed; and Muslims believe that all three (Mohammed, Jesus and Moses) actually delivered the same message during their respective lives. Jesus, for example, is mentioned by name over 25 times in the Quran, while Mohammed is mentioned just 5 times by name. Below are just a few (of the literally hundreds of verses from the Quran) that support this perspective.
[2:136] Say, “We believe in God, and in what was sent down to us, and in what was sent down to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Patriarchs; and in what was given to Moses and Jesus, and all the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction among any of them. To Him (God) alone we are submitters.”
[7:159] Among the followers of Moses (Jews) there are those who guide in accordance with the truth, and the truth renders them righteous.
[5:46] Subsequent to them, we sent Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming the previous scripture, the Torah. We gave him the Gospel, containing guidance and light, and confirming the previous scriptures, the Torah, and augmenting its guidance and light, and to enlighten the righteous.
[3:33] God chose Adam, the family of Abraham and the family of Imran (Virgin Mary’s family) to be above the mankind of their time. [3:45] The angels said, “O Mary, God gives you good news: a Word from Him whose name is `The Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary. He will be prominent in this life and in the Hereafter, and one of those closest to Me (God).’
[2:62 & 5:69] Surely, those who believe, those who are Jewish, the Christians, and the converts; anyone who (1) believes in God, and (2) believes in the Last Day, and (3) leads a righteous life, will receive their recompense from their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.
We hope that this clarifies some of the misperceptions about Islam which the Saudi Arabia case may
have perpetuated. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or comments.
Muslim Students at HBS