From Polytheism to Monotheism
An important element of the Quran’s continual affirmation of God being the only deity (verse 255) lies in the need to do away with the other deities worshiped by the Arabs in the Hijaz in Mohammed’s day. Not that affirming God being the only deity isn’t important anyway, because it is, but at the same time, it reinforces the notion that the other shrines in the Hijaz dedicated to other deities (daughters of God?) were illegitimate.
I find this interesting because the move from Arab tribalism to Islam was a move from accepted polytheism to strict monotheism with no monism in the middle. That’s a difficult transformation, and considering the time it took monotheism to root fully in Arabia I think it’s nothing short of astounding.
Consider the ancient Israelites. They weren’t monotheistic. They were monostic. That is, they believed in their god, Yahweh (God/Allah) but not to the exclusion of other gods. They worshiped him (well, at least for the short period that they were behaving) to the exclusion of other gods, but in the world of the ancient Israelites other gods existed – theirs was just superior and the only one worth believing in. This is particularly evident in the Ten Commandments which order the Israelites to worship no other gods before Yahweh.
On the contrary, Mohammed didn’t say, “You can’t worship the other gods.” He said, “Those aren’t other gods,” which was a rather dangerous thing to say, and ultimately, sent him out of Mecca for the safety of his life. And yet despite this, very quickly, Islam spread throughout Arabia and the Middle East and polytheism became monotheism with no extended period of monism in between. Truly incredible!
Verse 256 is terribly important for its invalidation of the notion of “conversion by the sword,” something that even Asad points out in his note, and an idea that runs wildly through western minds.
Would I say that Muslims have at some point in history converted people at the edge of the sword? Certainly, but those were rare instances, and not recognized in Islam as acceptable behavior or valid conversions. Are we really to believe that the entire Middle East and North Africa converted at the edge of a sword, became Muslims and then didn’t ever read this verse to realize that their conversion was illegitimate. I’m doubtful.
In addition, Christians are historically far greater perpetrators of forcible conversion, yet it is conservative Christianity which continues to spread this unreasonable and unjustified message. One instance of Christian forced conversion that comes to mind is the mass forced conversions of Jews that took place throughout 14th century Christian Spain. That’s why when Islam came knocking at the door in places that Jews lived during the 7th and 8th centuries (Spain being notably one of them), Jews welcomed the Muslims as liberators and helped them overthrow many cities from Christian rule. Indeed, when Muslims moved through Spain during the 8th century, they often left Jews in charge while the army marched forward, knowing that the Jews were far happier with them in power.
So, conversion by the sword – what narrow-minded rhetoric continually believed and spewed by westerners after centuries of Islamophobic behavior. Let’s stop spreading this nonsense and make an effort to understand Islam, an incredibly important world religion, better.
Please feel free to add anything that I neglected to discuss from these verses, and share your thoughts on them with us.
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The Cow 254-257
254. O YOU who have attained to faith! Spend [in Our way] out of what We have granted you as sustenance ere there come a Day when there will be no bargaining, and no friendship, and no intercession. And they who deny the truth -it is they who are evildoers! 255. GOD – there is no deity save Him, the Ever-Living, the Self-Subsistent Fount of All Being. Neither slumber overtakes Him, nor sleep. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth. Who is there that could intercede with Him, unless it be by His leave? He knows all that lies open before men and all that is hidden from them, whereas they cannot attain to aught of His knowledge save that which He wills [them to attain]. His eternal power overspreads the heavens and the earth, and their upholding wearies Him not. And He alone is truly exalted, tremendous. 256. THERE SHALL BE no coercion in matters of faith. Distinct has now become the right way from [the way of] error: hence, he who rejects the powers of evil and believes in God has indeed taken hold of a support most unfailing, which shall never give way: for God is all-hearing, all-knowing. 257. God is near unto those who have faith, taking them out of deep darkness into the light – whereas near unto those who are bent on denying the truth are the powers of evil that take them out of the light into darkness deep: it is they who are destined for the fire, therein to abide.
Filed under: Islam, Quran | Tagged: Allah, Arabic, Arabs, Christianity, conversion, conversion by the sword, God, Hijaz, holy, Islam, Jews, Mohammed, monism, monotheism, Muslim, Quran, Spain | 1 Comment »