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Friday, October 6, 2006

Mahmoud Muhammad Taha

I have recently learned about a man named Mahmoud Muhammad Taha. This was an intellectual and engineer Muslim who lived in Sudan, and was executed in 1985 for his radical interpretation of the Koran. According to Taha's interpretation:

The Koran was revealed to Muhammad in two phases. First in Mecca, where for thirteen years he and his followers were a besieged minority, and then in Medina, where the Prophet established Islamic rule in a city filled with Jews and pagans. The Meccan verses are addressed, through Muhammad, to humanity in general, and are suffused with a spirit of freedom and equality. They present Islam in its perfect form, as the Prophet lived it, through exhortation rather than threat.

The lives of the early Muslims in Mecca were the supreme expression of their religion and consisted of sincere worship, kindness, and peaceful coexistence with all other people. Thus, Islam was offered first in tolerant and egalitarian terms in Mecca, where the Prophet preached equality and individual responsibility between all men and women without distinction on grounds of race, sex, or social origin.

But as that message was rejected in practice, and the Prophet and his few followers were persecuted and forced to migrate to Medina, some aspects of the message changed.

Whereas Muhammad propagated "verses of peaceful persuasion" during his Meccan period, in Medina "the verses of compulsion by the sword" prevailed. The Medinan verses are full of rules, coercion, and threats, including the orders for jihad. In Taha's view they were a historical adaptation to the reality of life in a seventh-century Islamic city-state, in which "there was no law except the sword."

In the Meccan verses we find "You are only a reminder, you have no dominion over them" which is then appended with the Medinan edict, "Except he who shuns and disbelieves, on whom God shall inflict the greatest suffering." It was the Medinan verses which became the basis for Sharia law, developed over the next few centuries.

According to Taha, the elevation of the Medinan verses was only meant to be a historical postponement of the Meccan verses. The "ideal religion" represented in them was to be revived when humanity had reached a stage of development capable of accepting them, ushering in a renewed Islam based on freedom and equality. In support of this notion, Taha quotes a saying of the prophet, "Islam started as a stranger, and it shall return as a stranger in the same way it started."

Taha's reading of the Koran seems to maintain all of it as accurate and true, while at the same time allowing for modern Muslims to live faithfully to Islam while consistently enjoying the modern values of tolerance, peace, and equality.

Most of the above is edited, paraphrased, or pasted from an article on Mahmoud Muhammad Taha in the New Yorker called "The Moderate Martyr", made known to me by Al Robison. It can be read by clicking the link HERE. In addition to the above, when you read this article you'll learn the fascinating political details behind his execution, about his small group of followers today, and more.

I have ordered two books related to Taha. One is called "Quest for Divinity: Critical Examination of the Thought of Mahmud Muhammad Taha" by Mohamed A. Mahmoud. The other is by Taha himself and is called "The Second Message of Islam". You can also read much more about Taha at the Wikipedia article HERE.

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