Although every religious community today that is based on Devine revelation, reads God’s words from a book, the first generation of believers in each religion all heard it from one, or more than one, human prophet.
Prophets speak the words of God that they have received directly from God (Moses) or from one of God’s messenger angels (like Gabriel). Thus oral revelations, delivered over many years, always precede the written text of our Sacred Scriptures when, after the death of their prophet, they are finally fully written down by the prophet’s inspired disciples.
There are two reasons that oral revelation always precedes the final writing down of the prophets words. First, prophets sometimes speak God’s words until they die, so their disciples write down at least part of the prophet’s words post mortem.
More important, since prophets always encounter great difficulty in spreading God’s words, the living fervor and great force of a prophet’s personality, is essential to the success of his commission.
Yet after the prophet is gone, the written words by themselves still can convert many unbelievers into believers, and the fervor and warmth of the prophet’s religious community adds a great deal to the process.
There is however a tendency in later generations of all revealed religions for many scholars to go to extreme positions which should be rejected by the community. For example, an anti-soccer fatwa was published in Al-Watan on August 25, 2005, issued by Sheikh ‘Abdallah Al-Najdi.
The fatwa declared that it is only permissible to play soccer when its rules are different than the accepted international rules. This was based on a hadith (oral tradition) which forbids Muslims to imitate Christians and Jews. The fatwa read: “One should not use the terminology established by non-believers and polytheists, like: ‘foul,’ ‘penalty kick,’ ‘corner kick,’ ‘goal,’ and ‘out of bounds.’ Whoever pronounces these terms should be punished, reprimanded, kicked out of the game, and should even be told in public: ‘You have come to resemble the non-believers and the polytheists, and this has been forbidden.’
The Saudi Ulama Respond that Soccer is Permitted by the Shari’a saying: “Senior Saudi ulama rejected the fatwa and claimed that Muslim religious law permits playing soccer according to the international rules. They demanded prosecution of those who issued the fatwa that led some soccer players to quit their team and join the jihad in Iraq.”
Sheikh ‘Abd Al-Muhsin Al-‘Abikan, an advisor in the Saudi Justice Department, said that soccer is permitted so long as various shari’a prohibitions are not violated. According to him, the interpretation concerning the “rules of the game and the prohibition against using terms such as ‘foul,’ ‘out,’ ‘penalty kick,’ etc. is misguided, since even the Prophet Muhammad used non-Arabic expressions in the hadith, and even Allah used some non-Arabic words in the Koran. Therefore there is nothing wrong with occasionally using a language that is not [the language] of the Arabs, and this is not considered imitation [of Christians and Jews].
And in response to a question about the validity of Jehad for political purposes Dr. Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari, former dean of the Faculty of Shari’a and Law at the University of Qatar wrote that: “We do not deny that there were grave injustices caused to other peoples in the wars of Islam after the era of the Righteous Caliphs, that is, from the Umayyad period to the Ottoman period. These wars were partly for expansion and economic interests, but we must be aware that this was the nature of those times – that there were periods of ongoing wars, armed conflicts, and heated conflicts.
“If Muslims perpetrated grave deeds, others perpetrated even worse ones. Similarly, these wars were not only those of Muslims against others. On the contrary, the wars among Muslims themselves … were even worse and bloodier, and the Muslims spilled more Muslim blood than other blood.
“But, whatever these grave deeds may have been, the Muslims, as one of the world’s peoples, were responsible for them – not Islam, its values, and its just and humane precepts. The Companions of the Prophet were credible with regard to what they passed on about the Prophet, and they are a model. They sacrificed their lives and property, spread and defended Islam, and served as an awe-inspiring example. But ultimately they were human beings who are not infallible. They were both right and wrong, with human aspirations and tendencies, and therefore it says in the Koran [3:152]: ‘Amongst you were some who desired this world and amongst you were some who desired the hereafter.’
“The Companions of the Prophet have no sanctity and are not infallible. We have the right to assess their political behavior negatively or positively without [this being considered] defamation of any one of them. We know that the greatest civil war took place during their time, and it was the greatest catastrophe, which broke the strength of the Muslims. Thus, it is natural for us to be familiar with the reasons that led to it, and we will assess the positions of those who participated, and clarify who was right and who was wrong. If we say that everyone acted according to [right] religious judgment and that everyone was right, and that they are accountable only to Allah, history becomes meaningless.
“Indeed, we must remove the concept of sanctity from Islamic history, because it is the history of human beings who are right and wrong, like all human beings. It is the history of the Muslims, not of Islam, and our criticism is criticism of history, not of Islam…”
And in response to the question: “What is Islam’s position on the Muslim apostate? Must we use new religious judgment on the matter, in light of the accusations directed against Islam that it orders the killing of apostates? Whose responsibility is it to guide [Muslims] in the right path – the state’s or the individual’s?”
Dr. Al-Ansari replied: “First of all, freedom of belief is a strong element in the Koranic and prophetic texts and in the historical facts, beginning with the early era. It suffices to look at verses such as ‘There is no coercion in religion…’ [Koran 2:256] and ‘Let him who pleases believe, and let him who pleases disbelieve.’ [Koran 18:29]
Islam’s point of departure in establishing freedom of belief is logical and simple: The universe, nature, and man are based on difference, variety, and diversity. Moreover, the Koran decided on this matter when it said ‘And for this did He create them’ [Koran 11:119], that is, for the purpose of difference, diversity, and variety, with the aim of enriching life. As long as nature is diverse, and Allah created us different in everything – color, religion, language, nationality – it is natural that our choices will be diverse, in belief, way of thought, imagination, style, and laws, and that we have freedom of choice…
“The words of the ulema (scholars) in the matter of killing the apostate do not bind us in the modern era, because they fundamentally contradict the Koranic text [4:137]: ‘Those who believe, then disbelieve, again believe and again disbelieve, then increase in disbelief – Allah will not forgive them nor guide them in the right path.’ That is, the punishment will be in the hereafter, not in this world.
“As to what the Sunna says, ‘Kill the one who changes his religion,’ these words refer to a situation of great treachery through collaboration with the enemy. The Murtad [to whom the tradition refers] belonged to the camp of the Muslims in Al-Madina. [He] became an apostate, joined the camp of the enemies in Mecca, and began to fight Islam and the Muslims. Therefore, it was natural for the Prophet to order him killed.
“This understanding is reinforced by means of another oral tradition, according to which the blood of the Muslim is permitted in only three cases. Among these is [the case of] a Muslim who abandons his religion and leaves the group. That is, not only does he abandon his religion, but he also leaves the Muslims for the enemies (i.e. publicly converts).
“This leads us to the conclusion that the issue of belief and disbelief is a personal issue that is not the business of the regime, that must be distant from state or society’s interference. Guidance in the right path is [solely] from Allah… When the state interferes in the individual’s affairs, in the believer’s affairs, and in private relations between man and his Lord, it ruins more than it rectifies, and becomes a tyrannical regime that harms religion itself.”