Wisdom behind Specificness of the Command
Christians do not find it imperative to reconcile the received knowledge with reason. They believe that the religion operates beyond reason. However, some of them, with philosophical tendencies, endeavored to defend their religion against all kinds of rational attacks. However, for this love for rationalization of religion, they are always condemned and branded as heretics by both the scholars and the commoners among their co-religionists. Famous religious philosopher and thinker Spinoza who was an expert in Hebrew language is one such scholar.
Before I deal with my understanding of these exhortations, I wish to present the view of this philosopher concerning these directives. This will enable us understand that he agrees with me as far as the specificness of these commands to a particular group living under particular circumstances is concerned. This will also help us understand difference between the approaches of the Christian and Muslim scholars. It will also help us see that my view, besides being explicitly well established, is more respectful to the sharī‘ah of the Prophet Jesus (sws).
Spinoza believes that Jesus Christ (sws) commanded his followers what amounts to surrendering before and showing humility to the oppressors. This was, he says, because at the time this directive was issued his followers were under the tyrant rulers. He had to command them not to show resistance to the evil. He required them to offer their cheeks for slaps among other similar things. According to Spinoza, these directives were not given considering the objectives of virtue, religiosity or beauty of manners. These, quite distinctly, corresponded to their political status at that time. It was the best affordable and expedient approach in those circumstances.
This scholar has great knowledge of the lives of the Prophets and enjoys profound understanding of their books. He holds that these directives were meant for a particular people living under particular circumstances. However, he did not reach at the correct wisdom behind this specificity of the directives. Though he considered the rational aspect of the directives yet failed to regard the divine status of the sharī‘ah, Jesus (sws) and his disciples.
My view in this regard follows. A careful reader of the Gospels does not fail to understand that Jesus Christ (sws) came giving glad tidings of the kingdom of heaven. What does the kingdom of heaven he prophesied mean? It was but the rule of God’s religion. God had previously bestowed power upon the Jews. They lost it. The windmill of times ran its course upon them. They were, now, expecting to regain power another time as God had promised them. Jesus (sws) gave the glad tiding that it was nearing. He tried to explain this to them with the help of many examples and parables, which clearly corresponded to the advent of the Prophet Muḥammad (sws), the last Prophet of God.
The majority of his people disbelieved. Their scholars disappointed him. They were a hard hearted people who had taken up love of worldly pleasures. The Prophet Jeusus (sws) chose a small group of simple hearted poor commoners from among his nation. He wanted to purify them from self-indulgence and greediness so that it does not become difficult for them to enter the kingdom of heaven when it faces them. They would be, after entering the kingdom of heaven, bestowed upon the perfect and complete sharī‘ah of God. It was because of this consideration he gave them commands which could ensure that they kept on embracing destitution and poverty so that they could keep guarding God-consciousness, purity of heart and perseverance. This would make their God turn to them according to His established manner of dealing with His servants and fulfill His promise. The above only points out to the relevant facts. The issue has, however, been exhaustively discussed in its original appropriate place.
We have adopted this interpretation of the verses of the Gospels because it renders the statements of Jesus (sws) as the greatest glad tiding and prophecy on the one hand and remains perfectly compatible with reason and reconcilable to the reported historical facts on the other. Therefore, we see that it perfectly fits with the circumstances of the Christians and their history as foretold by Jesus (sws). We know that a group among his followers opted for destitution and spent whatever they possessed in the way of God. While another group among them cherished worldly gains and condemned the first one branding them with the name of the destitute. This is what Jesus (sws) had pointed out in the beginning of his sermon. The sin of these poor followers of Jesus (sws) was no more than to spend their wealth in the way of God, to stick to their original financial position, follow the Torah, prohibit the pork, command circumcision, disbelieve in divinity of Jesus (sws), reject other than the original Hebrew Gospel which the latter Christians lost, and to condemn Paul who disfigured the religion of Jesus (sws). He had fervently opposed the disciples and proclaimed that he learnt from Jesus (sws) through visions and that he did not need to turn to his disciples for guidance.
When the kingdom of heaven manifested itself by the hands of Muḥammad (sws), the Last Prophet of God, majority of the poor Christians entered it while the opulent and arrogant among them opposed it. They were resultantly not able to enter the kingdom of heaven. What I have said can be proved by many statements of the Torah, the Gospels, and the Qur’ān as well as the history of the Christians. However, I cannot go into detail. The issue has been fully dealt with in our book ‘Fī Malakūt Allāh” among others. I have gone this far in this discussion because it could not be ignored completely. Nor is it possible to deal with this issue exhaustively. An exhaustive analysis of the issue will be offered in its proper place.
To recapitulate, I say that the absolute prohibition of taking an oath ascribed to Jesus Christ (sws) was specifically meant for those following his way of life. I do acknowledge that he did prohibit oath taking to his followers. It is understandable. If someone decides to cut himself completely from social life and sets off expecting the kingdom of heaven to set in, and in doing this he does not take rest, does not seek revenge when beaten, abused, or oppressed, does not interact with people so that he is forced to argue with any then what will make him take an oath? His reply to people cannot be other than plain yes, or no. Oaths, witnesses, claims and proofs; all are irrelevant to him.
This prohibition relates to a particular aspect of the oaths, considering the muqsam ‘alayhi. This is evident from the context in which it occurs. I do not think that Jesus (sws) prohibited taking an oath on religious facts too. We see that he himself, according to the Gospel of John, called to witness God to the veracity of his prophethood. An oath, after all, is brought to evidence something.
Similarly we see in the Qur’ān that there are oaths ascribed to the pious Christians who had been sent forth to preach and propagate the truth. It has been said in Sūrah Yāsīn (Q. 36):
They said: “Our Lord knows that we are, indeed His messengers to you; and our duty is only plain delivery of the message.” (Q 36: 16-7)
The words, “our God knows” in the above verse quite obviously is but a form of swearing an oath as has already been explained.
For a seeker of truth this and what has been explained in the previous sections suffices as explanation to the questions and doubts enumerated in the beginning of the book. I have tried to adopt the view that is reconcilable with reason and received knowledge and can be confirmed by the Torah, Gospels, and the Qur’ān. All the apparent points of difference between these pertain to the aspect of perfection and detail, determination of the balanced approach from extremes, and consideration of differences in the minute points of applications of directives wherein it is difficult to see what is harmful and what is beneficial. We have observed how the Qur’ān considers such fine aspects in oaths. We cannot cover all the directives of the sharī‘ah in this respect. However, I will turn to desirable and undesirable oath formulas. This will conclude the discussion on the meanings and aspects of oaths. It will bring to light another aspect of rhetorical beauty of the Qur’ān and will create in the readers a desire to study Arabic language. Note that the lack of knowledge of the Arabic language is religiously harmful for us.
(Translated by Tariq Mahmood Hashmi)
. The issue has been discussed in detail in the book Fī Malakūt Allāh.