By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi
Extremists interpret all the war-time verses of the Qur’an—which are actually limited to a framework of time and context—in an absolute, immutable and universal application. Jihadist ideologues have taken the word “Fitnah” from a Qur’anic verse (2:191) to mean “Kufr” (infidelity) and “shirk” (associating someone with God) with an aim to kill all the non-Muslims and even Muslims who indulge in ‘shirk’ (in their eyes). This requires a fresh reading of this Qur’anic verse with a deeper insight into its linguistic implications and the authentic Qur’anic exegeses (tafaaseer).
We need to do a comprehensive research on the Qur’anic word “al-fitnah” in the light of its usage and linguistic implications in many other places in the Qur’an. The full verse goes like this:
“Fight against them wherever they confront you in combat and drive them out from where they drove you out. Though killing is bad, Fitnah (persecution) is worse than killing. Do not fight against them near the Masjid Haram unless they attack you there.” (2:191)
First let’s put the above verse in its original context. Prior to this verse, there is a verse clarifying the Qur’anic notion of fighting in the way of God: “Fight in the way of God those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed, Allah does not like transgressors.” (2:190).
The verse is clear and categorical in its statement. It allows Muslims only to fight or defend against those who attack them, yet it commands them not to transgress limits (i.e. killing non-militant civilians, innocent children and women and old men and women, or killing animals and destroying plants etc.) In a nutshell, the verse allows Muslims to fight only for self-defence not in offence such as mindless violence committed by the Extremists in the name of Islam or Jihad fi Sabilillah (fighting in the way of God).
The verse further goes on to state:
“And keep fighting against them until the disruption and mischief is totally eliminated and the Deen practically becomes subservient to Allah alone (i.e., the system of the protection of peace, security and human rights is practically established). But if they desist, then offensive action is not permissible except against the wrongdoers (i.e., transgressors).” (2:193).
According to the Qur’anic perspective, Deen means “a complete code, system or way of life” rather than “religion” (a cult of narrow dogmas, customs and rituals). Now, the Deen, or way, or system of Allah is that any kind of coercion, oppression or persecution inflicted upon people in the name of religion is unlawful and punishable in the final court. Obviously, this broader notion of Deen (the system of God) is exactly the opposite of Fitnah (persecution or oppression in religion).
Thus, if the entire context is properly examined, the above verses clearly deny the killing of innocent non-Muslims or Muslims in anyway. But the problem is that Extremists are hell-bent on translating the word “Fitnah” into “Kufr” and “Shirk” according to their exlusivistic and fanatic Wahhabi doctrines, and, therefore, are out to kill and slaughter all Kafirs and Mushriks (non-Muslims and non-Wahhabi Muslims) wherever they are found, particularly in their so-called Islamic states, while the entire corpus of the Quran is vehemently opposed to this Wahhabi doctrine.
Meanings of the word “Fitnah” in the Classical, Modern and Qur’anic Arabic
The word fitna is a derivative of an Arabic verb “Fa-ta-na” (فتن) meaning: “to seduce, tempt, or lure.” The great scholar of Arabic language Ibn Faaris says in his explanation of this word: “The verb “Fa-ta-na” is a sound root which indicates testing or trial.”(Maqaayees al-Lughah, 4/472). This is the primary meaning of the word “fitnah” in Arabic. However, it has many shades of meanings, majority of which are identical to each other referring to a state of chaos, disorder or unrest. In modern Arabic usage, Fitnah encompasses all these meanings: controversy, fragmentation, scandal, chaos, discord within the Muslim community, disturbing social peace and order etc.
In his comprehensive classical Arabic dictionary “Lisan al-Arab”, (The Arab Tongue), the Arabic lexicographer Ibn Manzur (1233-1312 C) writes Summing up the meanings of Fitnah: “Fitnah means testing, trial, Fitnah means wealth, Fitnah means children, Fitnah means discord, Fitnah means burning with fire.” (Lisaan al-‘Arab by Ibn Manzoor).
These are the common meanings of Fitna that also have been used in the Holy Quran, but the Quran also contains variations of the word Fitna to describe the kinds of trials and temptations:
Meanings of the word “Fitnah” in the Qur’an
1- Compulsion and coercion in the matters of religion, as in the verse 16:110:
“Then, indeed your Lord, to those who emigrated after they had been compelled to renounce their religion (فُتِنُوا futinoo) and thereafter fought [for the cause of Allah] and were patient – indeed, your Lord, after that, is Forgiving and Most Merciful”
2-Tourture and persecution, as in the verse 85:10:
“Indeed, those who have tortured [فَتَنُوا fatanoo] the believing men and believing women and then have not repented will have the punishment of Hell, and they will have the punishment of the Burning Fire.”
3- Trial and testing, as in the verse 29:2:
“Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried (لَا يُفْتَنُونَ la yuftanoon)?”
4- Tempting and turning someone away from his/her purpose, as in verse 5:49:
“….and beware of them, [O Muhammad] lest they tempt you [يَفْتِنُوكَ yaftinooka] away from some of what Allah has revealed to you.”
5- Committing sin and hypocrisy, as in the verse 57:14:
“The hypocrites will call to the believers, “Were we not with you?” They will say, “Yes, but you led yourselves to sins (فَتَنتُمْ أَنفُسَكُمْ fatantum anfusakum) and awaited [misfortune for us] and doubted, and wishful thinking deluded you until there came the command of Allah. And the Deceiver deceived you concerning Allah.”
Imam Baghawi writes explaining this verse: “It means: you made yourselves fall into hypocrisy and you destroyed yourselves by means of sin, whims and desires.”
6- Attacking, disrupting and taking prisoners, as in the verse 4:101:
“And when you travel throughout the land, there is no blame upon you for shortening the prayer, [especially] if you fear that those who disbelieve may disrupt [or attack] you (يَفْتِنَكُمُ Yaftinakum).”
The above verse refers to the pagans of Arab who would attack Muslims while they were praying and prostrating, in order to kill them or take them prisoner.
7- Stirring up controversy among people, as in the verse 9:47:
“They would have been active among you, seeking [to cause] controversy among you. [yabghoonakum al-fitnah يَبْغُونَكُمُ الْفِتْنَةَ]”
8- Insanity and mindlessness, as in the Aayah (interpretation of the meaning):
“Which of you is afflicted with madness (الْمَفْتُونُ Maftoon)”
Applying the best method of Tafseer (interpretation of the Qur’anic verses by the Qur’an itself) and going by the above Qur’anic usage, there is no way to translate or interpret the word “Fitnah” in the verse 2:191 as “kufr” (infidelity) or “shirk” to open ideological roots to wanton killing of non-militant civilians- both Muslims or non-Muslims. Therefore, it is, and should be, aptly translated as “oppression”, “persecution”, “tumult”, “sedition”, “temptation”, “disorder”, “rebellion, “discord”, “injustice”, “mischief”, “disruption” etc.
Quite a large number of modern Qur’anic exegetes have rendered this Arabic word into any of the above English words. Most notable among such modern Islamic scholars are:
Muhammad Asad (oppression) , M. M. Pickthall (persecution), Yusuf Ali (Saudi Rev. 1985) (tumult and oppression), Yusuf Ali (Orig. 1938) (tumult and oppression), Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar (persecution), Dr. Mohammad Tahir-ul-Qadri (mischief and disruption), Maulana Wahiduddin Khan (religious persecution), Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi (temptation), Muhammad Mahmoud Ghali (discord, sedition), Maulana Abul A’ala Maududi (persecution), Maulana Muhammad Taqi Usmani (to create disorder), Shabbir Ahmed (oppression, cruelty and persecution), Syed Vickar Ahamed (persecution and injustice), Farook Malik (creating mischief), Dr. Kamal Omar (tumult and oppression) Talal A. Itani (Oppression), Bilal Muhammad (oppression), Dr. Munir Munshey (persecution and oppression), Hamid S. Aziz (oppression or sedition), Ahmed Ali (oppression) and Abdel Haleem (persecution).
Cherry picking Qur’anic verses out of context has been a troubling trend set by the modern Kharjites. They have long been misinterpreting the Qur’anic verses in their criminal bid to entrap gullible Muslims. They take full advantage of the ignorance and the darkness those naive readers have been kept in since their young age, believing that once their impressionable minds are brainwashed and their religious views are radicalised, no sensible interpretation of the Qur’an will be of any help. But the well-aware Muslims who are blessed with open mind, reason and rationality delve deeper into the Qur’anic verses, their time and context and thus shape their religious ideas based on a sound intellectual foundation, without falling into the trap of the extremist ideologues.