The Qur’anists

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The Qur’anists

Aisha Y. Musa*
Florida International  University
www.19.org

Originally published at Religion Compass 4/1 (2010): 12–21,  10.1111/j.1749-8171.2009.00189.x

Abstract

Stories relating the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad, known as Hadith in Arabic, have long been esteemed by the vast majority of Muslims as a source of law and guidance second only to the Qur’an in authority. In recent years, an increasingly vocal Muslim opposition to Hadith insists that the Qur’an alone should be the sole source of religious law and guidance in Islam. Rashad Khalifa, Kassim Ahmad, Edip Yuksel, and Ahmad Subhy Mansour are among the most important rejecters of the Hadith, whose arguments influence a wide variety of groups popularly labeled Ahl al-Qur’an, Qur’niyyun or Qur’anists.

Qur’anists:  Contemporary Muslim Opposition
to the Use and Authority  of the Hadith

Hadith, stories of the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad are the second scrip- tural source of law and guidance after the Qur’an for most Muslims. They are the only vehicle through  which,  according to  the  majority of  Muslims, we  can  access what Muhammad said and did and that of which he tacitly approved. These stories have played an important role in shaping the development of Islam as we know it today. Recently, however, an increasingly vocal Muslim opposition to the use and authority of the Hadith has emerged. Insistence on the Qur’an alone as the sole source of religious law and guid- ance in Islam has earned those who oppose the Hadith the epithet ‘Qur’anists.’ This arti- cle will introduce  the  most prominent  trends and thinkers among the  various groups referred to by this title.

There are two strains of opposition to the authority of the Hadith. The first is opposi- tion to an extra-Qur’anic source of scriptural authority and the second is to the problem- atic  content  of  some  of  the  Hadith  that  make  the  religion  an  object  of  ridicule. Authenticity is also a concern, and opponents of the Hadith often argue that the Hadith have nothing to do with the Prophet. However, the overriding concern is about granting scriptural authority to something other than the Qur’an.

The number of groups and individuals who may be called ‘Qur’anists’ appears to be increasing. The  Internet has opened the discussion to a broad array of participants and observers. At the time of this is being written, Wikipedia’s entry entitled ‘Qur’an alone’ contains links to  more  than a dozen websites dedicated to  interpreting Islam without using Hadith.

While  some opponents  of  the  Hadith  express themselves openly, using their  own names, others publish their views anonymously or under pseudonyms for fear of reprisals.

Arrest, detention, and imprisonment of Qur’anists in Egypt has gained increasing attention in the Muslim world since at least early 2003, when the London based, Arabic language daily, al-Sharq al-Awsat, reported that eight Egyptians were sentenced by Egypt’s Supreme State Security Court to terms ranging from 6 months to 3 years for ‘contempt of religion’ for rejecting Prophetic Traditions, interpreting the Qur’an for themselves in ways differ dramatically from  mainstream understanding of  Islamic beliefs and  practices (al-Sharq al-Awsat 2003). More arrests and detentions in 2007 sparked intense debated in the Egyp- tian press, and scholars of al-Azhar declared the Qur’anists apostates who are attempting to ‘destroy Islam.’ Former Deputy Rector of al-Azhar and member of the Islamic Studies Committee, Mahmoud Ashour, was quoted in al-Sharq  al-Awsat  as saying they are ‘more dangerous to  Islam than  any  other  group.’  (Khalil 2007).  The  situation  of  Egypt’s Qur’anists illustrates the gravity of the issue for Muslims.

An important aspect of the modern debates over the Hadith is that they involve educated ordinary Muslims. In his 1999 article ‘The Coming Transformation of the Muslim World,’ Dale Eickelman discusses the effect that ‘unprecedented access that ordinary peo- ple now have to information and knowledge about religion and other aspects of their society’ is having on religious authority in the Muslim world:

What distinguishes the present era from prior ones is the large number of believers engaged in the ‘reconstruction’ of religion, community, and society. In an earlier era, political or religious leaders  would prescribe, and others were supposed to  follow. Today, the major impetus for change in religious and political values comes from below. (Eickelman 1999)

The  contemporary challengers of the Hadith  illustrate Eickelman’s point  – they are educated, ordinary Muslims rather than religious scholars or clergy. As Daniel Brown’s analysis of the early 20th century Qur’an alone  movements shows they made use of the popular press and self-published books and journals (Brown 1996). This continues today. The  Internet  has contributed to  the spread and development of a variety of Qur’anist movements throughout  the world. Besides the discussions  in Egypt, opposition to  the Hadith  was and  is taking place throughout  the  Muslim world,  in  countries such as Malaysia, Kuwait, and South Africa (Tolu-e-Islam 2009).

Among the leading opponents of the Hadith are Rashad Khalifa and Ahmad Subhy Mansour, Egyptians who settled in the United  States, Kassim Ahmed of Malaysia, and Edip Yuksel, a Turkish religious activist who immigrated to the United States to escape persecution in his homeland. Their  works are available both in traditional print media and on the Internet. Each of them was born and raised in a traditional Sunni family in a Muslim country.  While  some may have lived and studied in  Western countries, they came to  the  West as  adults with  their respective cultural, social, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. They are not ‘Westerners’ who are seeking to ‘Westernize’ Islam to fit their ‘Western’ culture. This is significant because one of the most frequent criticisms of the modern-day opposition to the authoritative status of the Hadith is that it is an essentially Western-influenced assault on Islam (Hashim 2007).

Rashad Khalifa

The Qur’anic arguments leveled against the use of Hadith were most strongly articulated by Rashad Khalifa, in his 1982 book Quran, Hadith, and Islam. The book is less than 90 pages, but from beginning to end it is a vehement indictment of traditional Islam as idol- atry that violates the teachings delivered by Muhammad.

Born in Egypt in 1935, Khalifa came to the United States in 1959, where he obtained a PhD in Biochemistry. He settled in the United States and was active in the local Mus- lim community. Dissatisfied with English translations of the Qur’an, Khalifa set out to do a translation of his own (Submission.org 2009). In working on the translation, he scruti- nized the Arabic initials that preface certain chapters of the Qur’an. A computer analysis of the text revealed numerical patterns related to  the initials that according to  Khalifa proved the divine origin of the Qur’an. This brought Khalifa popular acclaim throughout the Muslim world and even a congratulatory letter from the director of the Department of  Research  and  Publications at  al-Azhar University’s Academy of  Islamic Research (al-Fuqa 1976; Unpublished letter). Ahmed Deedat also promoted  Khalifa’s  work  in a booklet entitled Al-Quran, the Ultimate  Miracle (Deedat 1986).

However,  numerical patterns in  the  Qur’an  were  not  the  only  discovery Khalifa claimed to have made. In the preface to Quran, Hadith, and Islam he writes:

The continued research unveiled a startling fact: that the extremely popular ‘Hadith & Sunna’ have nothing to do with the prophet Muhammad, and that the adherence thereto represents flagrant disobedience of God and His final prophet (Quran 6:112 & 25:31). This finding contra- dicts the beliefs of Muslim masses everywhere. Consequently, my personal popularity, and even the popularity of the Quran’s miracle, plunged to the point of endangering my life and reputa- tion.  As it turned out,  telling Muslims that ‘Hadith and Sunna’ are Satanic inventions is the same as telling Christians that Jesus is not the son of God (Khalifa 1982).

Khalifa’s declaration that  the  Hadith  and  Sunna  were  ‘Satanic inventions’ angered Muslims around the world (Bay an min al-Azhar 1985). In the book prefaced by that bold declaration, Khalifa uses Qur’anic verses, a few Biblical verses, and even Hadith to sup- port his conclusions. For those who  accept his findings, he says, ‘the results include a totally new sense of salvation, and full awareness that the Muslim masses have fallen vic-tim to Satan’s schemes’ (Khalifa 1982).

Khalifa starts by establishing premises on which all Muslims agree: obeying the Messen- ger is obligatory and Messengers do not speak for themselves (Khalifa 1982, pp. 1–2). By identifying these premises and  using them  as  a  starting point,  Khalifa anticipates the response most often made when the Hadith are challenged – the Qur’an commands obe- dience to the Messenger, which requires acceptance of the Hadith. Khalifa understands this and agrees with need to obey the Messenger. Where Khalifa differs with the majority of Muslims is on  what obedience to  the  Messenger requires and what represents the teachings of the  Messenger: ‘Muhammad is represented by the  Quran  alone’ (Khalifa 1982, p. 3). Khalifa cites more than 70 verses from the Qur’an, in both Arabic and Eng- lish, to support a number of assertions, including:

  • The Qur’an is ‘complete, perfect, and fully detailed’;
  • Muhammad’s only duty was to deliver the Qur’an;
  • Muhammad was forbidden from explaining the Qur’an;
  • Obeying the Messenger is following only the Qur’an;
  • Religious practices came from Abraham, not Muhammad;
  • ‘Hadith’ and ‘Sunna’ are ‘100% conjecture’;
  • The Qur’an is only ‘Hadith’ that Muslims should follow.

Khalifa (1982) cites many verses, but here I will only mention some key verses used. The translations are those of Khalifa, and these differ from more mainstream translators. The  emphasis is also that  of Khalifa. Among the  verses used to  support his assertion that the Qur’an is complete and fully detailed are 6:38–39: ‘We did not leave anything out of this book…’  (Khalifa 1982, p. 10). He then cites portions of 6:114–115: ‘Shall I seek other than God as  a source of law, when He revealed this Book  to  you fully  detai- led…The  word  of your Lord is complete  in truth  & justice’ (p. 10). Khalifa challenges Muslims by citing these verses under the heading, ‘Do  you believe  God or  not?’  (p. 10).

The challenge is directed toward those who argue that the Hadith are a necessary com- plement  to  the  Qur’an.  How  can  a  ‘complete’ book  require  a  ‘complement’? The none-too-subtle  suggestion is that  no  one  who  believes such  a  thing  believes God. One  who  does not  believe God  is a  disbeliever. As he  did  in  his preface, Khalifa harshly condemns the vast majority of Muslims. This too  is a very serious charge and one that angers many Muslims.

One of the strongest arguments for Hadith has to do with the details of religious prac- tices. Khalifa understands this. He says ‘their favorite question’ is ‘If the Quran is complete  (as God  says), where  do  we  find  the  details of  Salat [sic]   prayers?’ Khalifa’s parenthetical insertion is yet  another  none-too-subtle  implication: those who  ask this question do not believe what God says. He further states that the question ‘reveals their total ignorance of the Quran’ (Khalifa 1982, p. 37). Khalifa’s response to ‘their favorite question’ is that all religious practices come to us from Abraham, in support of which he cites Qur’an 22:78:

He has blessed you and imposed no hardship in your religion; the religion of your  father  Abraham. Abraham is the one who named you ‘Muslims’ in the beginning… Therefore you shall observe the Salat prayers, give the Zakat charity… (Khalifa 1982, p. 38)

To show that the specific religious practices mentioned in 22:78 were given to Abra- ham, Khalifa emphasizes part of 21:72–73: ‘and  We taught them righteous  works  and the observance  of Salat and Zakat. (Khalifa 1982, p. 48). He offers similar verses regarding fast- ing and the Hajj to  show that they too  were known  and practiced since the time of Abraham (Khalifa 1982, pp. 49–50), and Muhammad was to follow the religion of Abra- ham (Khalifa 1982, p. 40). Muhammad’s contribution to Islam was not the details of reli- gious  practices, as  these  were  already known.  They  are  Abraham’s contribution  to Muslims’ religious lives. Muhammad’s contribution  was the  delivery of  the  Qur’an. Pointing out the Qur’an’s use of the Arabic construction ma…illa, which he refers to as a ‘double negative’ used for emphasis, Khalifa cites the Qur’an 42:48 and 5:99 in support of the idea that Muhammad had ‘no duty except delivering (Quran)’ (Khalifa 1982, p. 32).

Another popular argument for Hadith that Khalifa attacks is that Muhammad explained things beyond the details of religious practices. He declares emphatically that Muhammad was forbidden to explain the Qur’an, citing 75:17–19: ‘It is we who will put it together as  a Quran.  Once  we reveal it, you shall follow  it. Then,  it is we who will explain it’ (Khalifa 1982, p. 69).

What Khalifa offers is radical redefinition of the role of the Messenger as the majority of Muslims understand it. He even uses Hadith from the collections of al-Bukhari and Muslim in which Muhammad prohibited writing anything from him except the Qur’an as evidence that the advocates of Hadith do not even follow their own teachings (Khalifa 1982, p. 34). However, he does not stop there. He also attacks the idea that Prophetic Hadith are a form divine inspiration.

Here too, Qur’anic verses are Khalifa’s weapon of choice, especially verses that use the Arabic word Hadith, such as: ‘‘These are God’s verses; we recite them for you truthfully. In which ‘Hadith’,  [sic] beside God and His verses do they believe in [sic]?’’ (Khalifa  1982, p. 57). To  further emphasize his point that the ‘‘Quran is the only ‘Hadith’  to be fol- lowed,’’ and that ‘all other Hadiths are blasphemous and misleading fabrications,’ Khalifa follows his citation of Qur’an 45:6 with 39:23 and 31:6–7, which also contain the Arabic word Hadith: ‘‘God has revealed the best ‘Hadith’;  [sic] a book…;’’ and ‘‘[t]here are those who advocate vain ‘Hadith’ causing diversion from the path of God, without knowledge, and fail to take such actions seriously…’’ (Khalifa 1982, p. 58).

For Khalifa, there is no middle ground. There is no question of ‘authentic’ or ‘inau- thentic’ Hadith. For Khalifa, the crucial question is posed in 45:6. Khalifa sees anyone who follows any Hadith ‘after God and His verses’  as being described in 31:6. They are ‘idol worshippers’ of Muhammad who are unaware of their idolatry and consider them- selves righteous (Khalifa 1982, 53–4). The importance of Hadith and Sunna for Khalifa is that they are a ‘necessary test to distinguish the true Muslim from the false Muslim’ (Khalifa 1982, p. 55).

It is not surprising that Muslims worldwide reacted with anger and hostility. However, not all Muslims had this reaction. Some were moved by the Qur’anic arguments he presented One  such Muslim is Kassim Ahmad, author of Hadith: a Re-evaluation  (Ahmad 1997).

Kassim Ahmad

Born and raised in Malaysia in a traditional Sunni family, Ahmad (1997) says that he held the generally accepted Sunni beliefs, tempered by Ibn Khaldu n’s criteria of checking tra- ditions against the Qur’an and rational thinking, until he encountered Khalifa’s work in 1985. Khalifa ‘opened for [him] a way to  solve the  problem of the  Hadith’ (Ahmad 1997, p. 3). The problem to which Ahmad refers is ‘their negative effects on the Muslim community’ and their connection to the decline and fall of the Muslims. Because of their negative effects, Ahmad believes Muslims need to completely ‘re-evaluate the whole heritage of traditional Islamic thought’ (Ahmad 1997, pp. 2–3). Ahmad is not alone in calling for such a re-evaluation. Many Muslims have worked to reform Islam and Muslim think- ing, including Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad ‘Abduh, and Rashid Rida. In spite of the efforts of such reformers, Ahmad says, ‘the condition of the Muslim community has not changed much and continues to be precarious.’ The question that Muslims must ask themselves is ‘why?’ Ahmad recognizes that many social, cultural, political, historic, economic and other factors play a role, but not all factors play an equal role. Ahmad sees ideology as  the  most important factor (Ahmad 1997, pp. 5–6). He  identifies what he sees as the basis for the failure of the modern reform movement begun by Muhammad, Abduh:

His basic references are still the Quran and the Hadith. I have pointed out that herein lies the failure of this movement. The Hadith, and everything else, have to be judged by the Quran. (Ahmad 1997, p. ix)

Ahmad’s hypothesis is that the early Muslims were successful  when the Qur’an was their sole source of religious guidance and that Muslim society only declined after they granted Hadith authority along with the Qur’an:

After about three hundred years, extraneous harmful teachings  not taught by Prophet Muham- mad but skillfully attributed to him gradually gained a foothold in the Muslim community and turned  them  away from the dynamic invincible ideology that initially brought them  success. (Ahmad 1997, p. 8)

Although, he  identifies the  use of Hadith  along with  Qur’an as  the  reason for the decline and stagnation of Muslim society and calls for a complete re-evaluation of Islam’s intellectual heritage to remedy the problem of the Hadith, unlike Khalifa, Ahmad makes it clear that such a re-evaluation is not an attack against classical scholars.  It is ‘a normal scientific procedure,’ in  which  all ‘great [Muslim] philosophers and scholars’ engaged (Ahmad 1997, p. 17).

Ahmad then  addresses what  he  calls ‘the Traditionists’ theory’ of  the  Hadith.  He divides this into four arguments that he addresses one-by-one (Ahmad 1997, pp. 23–49).

  • Sunna is revelation;
  • ‘Obey the Messenger’ means ‘Uphold the Hadith’;
  • Hadith Interprets Qur’an;
  • The Example of the Prophet.

Ahmad begins with  the  idea that the  ‘wisdom’ referred to  in  the  Qur’an  refers to extra-Qur’anic revelations given to  Muhammad. Ahmad’s starting premise is that  the Qur’an  explains  itself.  In  looking  at  the  twenty  occurrences  of  the  word  hikma (wisdom) in the Qur’an, he concludes that ‘it is obvious that it refers to the teachings of  the  Quran,  or  to  general wisdom  that  all prophet-messengers or  moral  teachers were endowed  with’ (Ahmad 1997, p.  24). Among the  verses he  cites to  show that the  ‘wisdom’ is to  be found in  the  teachings of the  Qur’an  is 17:39: ‘This  is  part of the wisdom  that your Lord reveals  to  you, where  the  word  ‘wisdom’ refers to  some 13 ethical teachings enumerated in verses 22 to 38’ (Ahmad 1997, pp. 23–4). Among the verses he cites to show that the ‘wisdom’ is something with which all prophets, mes- sengers or moral teachers were endowed are 3:81, which states that God has given all the  prophets ‘the Book  and wisdom,’ and 31:12, which  states that God  granted wis- dom  to  Luqman. Along with  verses that contain the word  hikma, Ahmad cites verses that  describe the  Qur’an  as  hakim, to  support  the  idea that  the  ‘wisdom’ that  God gave to Muhammad refers to the teachings of the Qur’an and not to any extra-Qur’a- nic  revelation.  The  wise  leadership that  Muhammad  demonstrated  was  ‘consequent upon his acting strictly in accordance with the ethical teachings of the Quran’ (Ahmad 1997, p. 25).

After examining Qur’anic usage of the word hikma, Ahmad examines the usages of Sunna and Hadith. He shows two different usages of Sunna, the first is for God’s system (Sunna) mentioned in 48:23, and the second is for ‘the example of the fate suffered by ancient communities,’ mentioned in 8:38. ‘None,’ he says, ‘refers to the behavior of the Prophet.’ In discussing  the Qur’anic usage of the word Hadith, Ahmad cites the same verses Khalifa used and concludes that the Qur’anic usage ‘categorically rejects any Hadith besides the Quran’ (Ahmad 1997, pp. 26–7).

Addressing the second Traditionist argument that links obeying the Messenger to fol- lowing Hadith, Ahmad argues that ‘the messenger is not an independent agency [sic],’ but the ‘agency [sic] that delivered the message’ (Ahmad 1997, p. 31). Ahmad then mentions those verses that indicate that the messenger’s only function is to deliver the message. In keeping with  the  principle that  the  Qur’an  explains itself, Ahmad points out  that  all verses that mention obedience to the Messenger do so only in connection with obedi- ence to God (Ahmad 1997, p. 32).

Having addressed the issues of the Sunna as a form of divine revelation and obedience to the Messenger, Ahmad takes up the idea that Muhammad explained the Qur’an. Here too,  he  presents the  same verses used by Khalifa, but  uses milder tone.  Like Khalifa, Ahmad argues that  prayer, charity, fasting, and  pilgrimage have been  inherited  from Abraham. He adds that even so, the Qur’an mentions the main features of these practices and that people learn these practices from parents and teachers, not from Hadith (Ahmad 1997, p. 36).

Ahmad then responds to the final argument of what he calls the Traditionists’ theory –that  when  the  Qur’an  calls the  Messenger ‘a good  example’ in  33:21, it  means his behavior must be imitated as closely  as possible  in all things and this requires Hadith – in the same way he responded to the previous arguments, offering other verses from the Qur’an to explain the meaning key terms. To  explain the meaning of ‘good example’ (uswa hasana) in 33:21, Ahmad argues that the same words are used to describe Abraham and those who believed with him in 60:4:

A good example  has been set for you by Abraham and those with him. They said to their people, ‘We disown you and the idols you set up besides God…’ (Ahmad 1997, pp. 38–9)

According to Ahmad, this verse shows that the good example refers to ‘one’s religious convictions, ideological position and struggle’ (Ahmad 1997, p. 39). He also argues that it is unreasonable to think that God would require Muslims to imitate Muhammad’s per- sonal behaviors such as eating and dressing because such behaviors are matters of culture, education, and personal preference (Ahmad 1997, p. 39).

After dealing with general arguments supporting the Hadith as a source of religious law and guidance, Ahmad presents his argument that the Qur’an is complete, perfect, and fully detailed. Again, he uses the same verses used by Khalifa and comes to the conclusion that the status of Hadith is a form of idolatry: ‘To place the Hadith on an equivalent footing with  revelation is to  create another source of guidance – an idol. This is the major problem with the Hadith’ (Ahmad 1997, p. 49). Ahmad, however, tempers his position, saying: the theory or doctrine that the hadith is  an equal source of guidance with the Quran,  pro- pounded by Shafi‘i, is the most important aspect of the hadith question. Even though we totally reject this doctrine, we do not reject the hadith as a secondary source, provided that it does not contradict the Quran. On this view also, we say that the hadith is an important source of early Muslim social history. (Ahmad 1997, p. 49)

Ahmad’s views on the Hadith, the nature of revelation, and the role of the Messenger, and the Qur’anic verses he uses to support those views are essentially the same as those presented by Khalifa, but his presentation differs dramatically. Not  only does he use a much less strident and condemnatory tone, he also appeals to rational thinking, desires for social reform, and classical  Muslim intellectual history to buffer and support his call for re-evaluation of  the  status of  Hadith.  Ahmad’s more  tempered  presentation was not enough to keep his book from being banned in his home country of Malaysia, nor from his being declared a heretic. However, his style has not garnered the degree of hostility that Muslims have directed against Rashad Khalifa.

Edip Yuksel

Edip  Yuksel, a  friend and  colleague of  Rashad  Khalifa, is another  prominent  figure among advocates of the doctrine of Qur’an alone.  His works are published in traditional print media, and he also maintains various websites. He uses his own name and picture on his websites and publishes under his own name. Born and raised in Turkey, Yuksel also comes from a traditional Sunni background. Like Ahmad, Yuksel was introduced to the idea of following the Qur’an alone through the works of Khalifa. Before encountering Khalifa’s  work, Yuksel had been a political and religious activist in Turkey, where he advocated the  establishment of a theocratic Islamic state. Khalifa’s  arguments brought about what Yuksel describes  as a ‘paradigm change’ in his thinking. To escape the reper- cussions of his new way of thinking, Yuksel left Turkey for the United States in 1989 (Yuksel 2009b).

Although Yuksel came to believe that the Qur’an is the only legitimate source of reli- gious guidance in Islam after exposure to Khalifa’s  work, Yuksel’s writings show more independence than those of Ahmad. Like Khalifa and Ahmad, Yuksel rejects the Hadith using the same Qur’anic arguments. However, he differs with Khalifa in his interpreta- tions of the Qur’an on certain issues, including the ritual prayer and the number of daily prayers. While Khalifa and Ahmad see these as inherited from Abraham and passed from generation to generation, Yuksel applies his own reasoning to the verses of the Qur’an that discuss salat. His study has led him to the conclusion that there are three, rather than five daily prayers required because only three salat are mentioned by name in the Qur’an. Yuksel finds the traditional postures of prayer confirmed in the Qur’an, but not the tradi- tional number of units (rak’at). This is ‘left to our discretion’ (Yuksel 2009a).

Yuksel’s work represents a new trend that has emerged among contemporary Qur’a- nists in the last several years, but one which proponents of Hadith see as  the strongest argument for the necessity of accepting Prophetic reports – fear that people will do what- ever they sit fit in implementing religious practices (Musa 2008, p. 121). This phenome- non is much more apparent on another Qur’anist website, http://www.free-minds.org

One of the most controversial of the Qur’an only websites is http://www.free-minds.org. This site emphasizes God alone, rather than Qur’an alone:

This website invites all people of various beliefs (Sunni, Shia, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Bahai, Agnostic, Humanist, and even Atheists) to come and examine for themselves the system of Sub- mission ⁄ Islam which is based on God Alone. (Free-Minds.org 2009a)

However, they do recognize the Qur’an as their only reference in determining what it means to be ‘Muslim.’ The conclusions to which authors come are often radically differ- ent than many others who see themselves as followers of the Qur’an alone. The majority have redefined their idea of the role of the Messenger and the nature of divine revelation, based on specific Qur’anic verses, as  the above discussion has detailed; and rejection of the Hadith has led them to make some changes in their religious practices, but in general, they have maintained what are popularly referred to as  the Five Pillars: shahada, prayer, charity, fasting, and pilgrimage.

The  authors of Free-minds.org  reject the ‘five pillars’  of Islam as  a ‘myth’ (al-Shaiban 2009a). Each of the traditional ‘five pillars’ is seen as corrupted by twisted and incorrect understanding of the Arabic terminology of the Qur’an. Free-minds.org contains provoc- ative articles dealing with religious thought and practice in Islam. The views expressed on this site demonstrate some of the most extreme among those who reject the Hadith. Here we  find arguments that  traditional Muslim shahada  is a blasphemous hypocrisy (Free-Minds.org 2009b), that salat is not ritual prayer (Hamed 2009), and that pilgrimage is not to Mecca, but to Jerusalem (al-Shaiban 2009b).

Ahmad Subhy Mansour and Ahl al-Quran

The website http://www.ahl-alquran.com is the official website of the Egyptian organiza- tion known as ‘Ahl al-Quran: The International Quranic Center’ (IQC). Although there is an English version, unlike most websites devoted to the idea of Qur’an alone, the pri- mary version of this website is in Arabic. The IQC  was founded by Dr Ahmad Subhy Mansour, an Egyptian with an extensive formal education in Islam and Muslim history.

He holds a Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate in Muslim History from the University of al-Azhar and also served as a Professor of Muslim history there. He began to write and publicize his ideas in Egypt in the mid-1980s. In  1987, he  was imprisoned. After his release, he moved to the United States, where he stayed briefly with Rashad Khalifa, in 1988. He  broke with Khalifa and returned to  Egypt some months later when  Khalifa declared messengership.

Mansour continued his research and writing in Egypt, under the scrutiny of the State Security forces, before finally immigrating to the United States in 2001. He is grateful for the Internet: ‘now with the Internet and freedom, the opportunity to publish my work on  Ahl al-Qur’an website for free has arrived’ (Mansour 2007b). Today,  the  website serves as the primary means of publishing his own works in Arabic and English, as well as articles  by other Qur’anists. Ahl al-Quran also monitors worldwide media coverage of the current situation of Qur’anists in Egypt, publishing and discussing the coverage on the  site. The  material quoted  here  from http://www.ahl-alquran.com was accessed in 2007. When double checking citations for publication in August, 2009, the site was listed as ‘unavailable  now for maintenance.’

Ahl al-Quran stress the same themes found in the works of Khalifa, Ahmed, Yuksel, and other proponents of the concept of Qur’an alone: that the Qur’an is complete, com- prehensive and sufficient as the sole source of law in Islam, as well as the only tradition (sunna) of  the Prophet Muhammad (Ahl-alquran.com 2007). In contrast to the Qur’an, which they regard as the true sunna of Muhammad, they see many ‘‘so-called ‘Hadeeth’’’ as not only demeaning and insulting to the Prophet, but also as tools used to ‘entice and encourage terrorism’ (Mansour 2007a).

The  articles found on http://www.ahl-alquran.com address issues of belief and prac- tices, offering alternative interpretations to what the authors see as problematic elements of more traditional interpretations, particularly in areas such as women’s rights and free- dom  of  speech and  conscience. Like, http://www.free-minds.org,  authors on  http:// www.ahl-alquran.com freely express their personal understandings of Qur’anic teachings. Each article carries the  disclaimer that opinions are those of the  author  and may not reflect the opinions of the organization, or other members or participants. Some maintain the traditional forms of rituals and practices while removing elements they see as violating Qur’anic teachings and principles. Others differ dramatically from traditional understandings of such practices  as prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage. If the fear that a book other than the Qur’an would distract and mislead people has been realized in the status accorded to the Hadith by most Muslims, fear that without the Prophetic Traditions people would do whatever they see fit in the name of religious practices has been realized in the variant opinions of the rejecters of Hadith. This is a challenge to traditional, mainstream Islam; but is it, as the former deputy rector of al-Azhar suggests, the greatest threat facing Islam? The comparison that some draw with the Protestant Reformation (Musa 2008, p. 107) offers something to consider because while the Reformation did lead to new denominations  of  Christianity, many  of  them  quite  different than  the  Catholic  Church  they challenged, the Church  continued to thrive. Likewise, perhaps the Qur’an alone  movements may lead to new branches of Islam, while the traditional branches and schools will continue to thrive as well.

Short Biography

Dr Aisha Y. Musa received her PhD in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the Department of Near  Eastern Languages & Civilizations at Harvard University. She is currently an assistant professor of Islamic Studies in the Religious Studies Department at Florida Inter- national University, in Miami. Dr Musa’s training at Harvard focused on early Islamic scriptural history, specifically the relative authority of the Qur’an and Prophetic Tradi- tions (Hadith). Her book, Hadith as Scripture: Discussions on the Authority   of Prophetic  Tradi- tions in Islam (Palgrave, 2008), explores the development of the doctrine of duality of revelation and issues surrounding the relative authority of the Qur’an and the Prophetic Traditions (Hadith). Her  research and teaching interests extend from the early classical period to the present and include translation of classical Arabic texts, Qur’anic interpreta- tion, women’s issues, and modern-day reformist and neo-traditionalist movements.

Note

*  Correspondence address: Aisha Y. Musa, 11200 SW 8th  St, DM  302, Miami, Florida 33199, USA. E-mail: [email protected]

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