Islam is not in the Qur’an

Confusing Islam with the Qur’an is a mistake

I hear people make accusations at the Qur’an which are really directed at the religion which claims the Qur’an as its scripture.

Typically, the person has an issue with a certain thing which is connected with Islam – or with what Muslims say or do – and he assumes it is in the Qur’an when, often as not, it isn’t.

I have analysed the Qur’an closely and translated it in a highly systematic manner. I see the religion of Islam nowhere between its covers. In short: Islam is not in the Qur’an.

To illustrate, we need some concept of what we mean by Islam.

There’s lots of Islam. In fact, it is never-ending. But for the sake of simplicity we’ll take what the Islamist himself assumes to be the core and indivisible definition of his faith:

  • To bear witness that there is no God but God and that Muhammad is the messenger of God
  • To pray five times a day
  • To pay 2.5% on savings as an annual poor tax
  • To fast from first light to sundown during the month of Ramadan
  • To make pilgrimage to Makkah for the Hajj (the date of which is set at specific time each year) if one is able

This then, is the core definition of Islam – or at least of Sunni Islam which makes up the vast majority of the Islamic world.

The Shia have a few additions, but we can safely take the five points above as central canon.

Before we begin to show how the points above bear no relation with the Qur’an it as well to point out that the very concept of ‘Islam’ as a religion (in the sense of dogma and rite) is nowhere found in the Qur’an. The Arabic islām is an abstract noun and means submission (typically: to God) or peace (typically: with God). It has no more specific application than hope in God or faith in God or fear of God. None.

The assertion that this islām is a religion (in the sense of dogma and rite) comes from the hadith literature. This literature – written between 100-200 years after the time of the revelation – is the true foundation of the religion of Islam.

And if its adherents simply said as much, that would be one thing. However, they claim the Qur’an as their foundational book – and this is simply not the case.

The five pillars just listed themselves also come from the hadith literature. The Qur’an does not discuss pillars of any sort with regard to a religion, and certainly not five.

But are these so-called pillars themselves in the Qur’an in substance if not in name?

Actually, no.

The only way we can imagine them there is if we have a pre-existing allegiance to the religion called Islam which itself comes from the hadith literature and then apply concepts from the hadith literature to the Qur’an on an arbitrary and inconsistent basis in order to achieve goals the hadith literature requires on a piecemeal basis and close our minds against the tidal wave of problems that process creates vis-à-vis the Qur’anic narrative.

When the Qur’an is assessed on its own merit and in a consistent and rational manner, we find no support for the supposed five pillars at all.

I will take them in the order we have them above:

  • There is no single statement to the effect that there is no God but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God in the Qur’an. None. The only people who make a point of bearing witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God in the Qur’an are hypocrites (63:1) – and they are immediately identified as liars by God. This is the most we can say about the so-called shahāda – or testimony – which is the statement by which one is supposed to enter the religion we call Islam.
  • The basis for what we think of as the Islamic prayer is – unsurprisingly – the hadith literature. Nowhere does the Qur’an say: pray five times a day. It tells the prophet to draw close to God at certain times, but that was directed towards him personally, and those times nowhere equal five – no matter how the Traditionalist pulls at the text to make it conform with his pre-existing requirements. This is also no particular prayer format in the Qur’an. The prophet is told to pray privately – without publicity of speech – at 7:205; the believers are told to arise for God in twos and alone (34:46); the earliest mosques did not comprise huge prayer halls but were largely made up of small cubicles. They also did not face Makkah. They faced Petra.
  • The term in the Qur’an which the Traditionalist thinks indicates an annual tax of 2.5% on savings  is zakāt. The word zakāt means purity. Nowhere in the Qur’an does it say that it is a tax of 2.5%. Nowhere does it say it is a tax of any sort. The Qur’an tells us to give something of whatever God gives us in order to purify our souls. It tells us to render a fixed tax of 20% on all spoils of war. There is nothing else. The specifics the Traditionalist claims for zakāt as an obligatory tax at a set rate which is associated with the religion of Islam are nowhere in the Qur’an.
  • The word ramaḍān occurs once in the Qur’an (2:185). The word ramaḍān means vehemently hot or vehemently heated (of the ground in the sun). It also denotes vehemence of action (lit. of the falling) of the sun upon the stones and sand, etc.; the burning and intense heat of summer. This word was attached to a particular month only subsequent to the Qur’anic revelation and it falls in all parts of the year – including the winter – since the Islamic calendar is lunar. The Qur’an simply says Whoso among you witnesses the moon (i.e. new month), let him fast in it. It does not specify any particular month. The verb ṣāma (to fast) takes it as a direct object. It is clearly a time phrase since if it denoted fasting from a thing the preposition would be min (from). Nouns indicating time (day, hour, etc.) when they appear with no preposition indicate on or in (cf. on the day, in the hour). They do not indicate during or over the course of. Lane in his authoritative Arabic-English Lexicon (p. 1759) feels the needs to confront this problem explicitly and states that ṣāma ashshuhra (which is the form here) actually means ṣāma fī ashshuhra. What he is trying to do is bring what the Qur’an says (let him fast in) into line with Traditionalist dogma (let him fast during or over the course of it) because he (correctly) understands that the words on the page do not tally with what the Traditionalist wants them to say. The simple fact is that the Qur’anic position is that believers are encouraged to fast in each month. How many days one fasts – like the amount of charity one gives – is left to the believer to decide. The minimum amount is at least something. Anything above that is left to the individual.
  • The fact is that Makkah is a later construct. All the Qur’anic evidence points to Muhammad as a citizen of Petra (see Article XVIII in the Appendix of my translation of the Qur’an which you can download free below). Makkah appears on no map until around 900 CE. Makkah fails to impress on the basis of clear descriptions in the Qur’an. The word makkah occurs once in the Qur’an. It is a simple noun and means destruction and that sense matches the context in which it is found. At the very least, the pilgrims who visit Makkah each year are going to a site that Muhammad never visited and likely never heard of. However, we should note that the requirement for pilgrimage (3:97) is in the past tense (just like the story of Moses crossing the sea or the destruction of the city of Lot). It is a history. And at 9:28 – once we have seen past the Traditionalist’s corruptions – it is clear that the believers are told to abandon that location in any case. The point of the Hajj was to warn the tribes to turn to God alone. That job done, it served no further purpose.

Thus, the foundation of Islam is nowhere found in the Qur’an. And since this foundation bears no relation to the Qur’an, anything built thereon – and there is much built thereon – can have no relation to the Qur’an either.

The hadith is the sole foundation of the religion of Islam and we should cease conflating the Qur’an with a religion with which it has no genuine connection.

The Qur’an regards itself in an entirely different light. I have scrutinised it in great depth and I can find no religion in it. Rather, it is a book of guidance.

It provides:

  • General principles for right living
  • Historical examples of the overthrow of tyranny (and the method to do so at any time)
  • Insight into the meaning of this life and what awaits us in the next
  • Good news and warning
  • Other histories

Religion is a racket – along with all the other rackets.

I urge those who understand this and are open to a revelation from God on the basis of its own merits – and not those of a religion created much later – to consider its contents for themselves.

About the Author Sam Gerrans

Sam Gerrans is an English writer and speaker with professional backgrounds in media, strategic communications, and technologies. He is driven by commitment to ultimate meaning, and focused on authentic approaches to revelation and Realpolitik. He is founder of and author of The Qur’an: A Complete Revelation where his consistent, Qur'an-centric hermeneutical methodology is applied to the text of the Qur’an in its entirety. Read more...

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