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Who is a non-Muslim?

2013-02-07
February 7, 2013

 

Sighting Clint Eastwood atop a peak elusive:
Mu’min, human or in-between?

 

In recent times, members of the leaderless Muhammadan ummah, in particular those residing in the Islamic West, are crawling amid the confusion of mutually irreconcilable versions of the Dīn.
Gory deviations seek to recruit them into an anarchical terror peddled by their proponents and the complacent kāfir media as “Holy War”. On the other end of the selfsame spectrum of extremes and extremism, oratorical superstars and pacific free-range local Imams are busy offering an enervated Muslim community, worried about survival from suffocating States and banks, manifestos of tol
èrance blurring all partitions between īmān and kufr.
Distraught and devitalized as we, too, are fast becoming the more we confront that polarization, we felt it necessary to tenaciously search for a word or two of guidance.
We thought of an illustrious devotee of correct Islamic beliefs from the UK, but as he was impeded by a hectic schedule, we had no choice but to trouble Ustādh Bradiperr once more.
We immediately set out to plan a Skype interview with him on whether Clint Eastwood could be described as having īmān, and whether īmān was the default status of every secular Westerner until proven kāfir.
We even fixed a date and time for that.
Alas! Ustādh Bradiperr was far away, and not expected to be back home for quite a while, as he told us in a letter, an extract of which is set out here under:


Dear fellow ustādh. I have been choked by a strenuous schedule of intellectual pursuits, artistic creations and physical education commitments. Sometimes I wonder whether I should not slow down, nay, I wonder whether I am not hosting too many personalities or even persons inside my being.
Due to the deep bonds of affection between the two of us, I would have gladly acceded to your request for a Skype meeting, but to be frank I have not even been able to pass by Alberonia for many a month. Even when we chatted about the ruling on e-dinars, I was journeying across a sea of estrangement. I am taking along with me that lovely book of Ibn al-Marzubān al-Karkhī, Ash-Shawq wa al-Firāq, do you remember how much you used to appreciate it?  I have been reading one poem or a few pages from it every time I manage to get a spare moment, and I must confess that on a few occasions the pages turned wet with some tears trickling down my cheek.
Enough with sentimentalism now:
I am sending through this paper I have hastily put together.
Please avoid publication of it if you can. I wrote it from memory, without having the reference works at my disposal to directly quote their words. In addition, it is the product of an overworked mind and a far from a polished effort. I prefer it to be a gift to you, if one could very generously describe it in such terms.
As for your request to provide a classical commentary of «
kuntum khayra ummatin ukhrijat lin-nās», I regret to inform you that I lacked any opportunity to attempt it. I apologize for the fact circumstances obliged me to repay your esteem and devotion with disregard, but I hope you can find some solace in my advice to simply translate what Ibn ‘Atiyyah wrote on that āyah in his lucent tafsīr Al-Muharrar al-Wajīz.
When I have settled in some recreational rest at home, Allah willing, we might amplify that on behalf of your readership.
I fondly remain your intimate brother in faith.

Greetings
Ustādh Bradiperr

 

I received the article he promised after 48 hours or so.
Below you will thus find, my dear readers, Ustādh Bradiperr’s contribution, followed by my translation of Ibn ‘Atiyyah’s elucidation of the said Qur’ānic āyah.
I hope you find their combination to be of some benefit and assistance.

Bismillāh ar-Rahmān ar-Rahīm

It is important that we understand certain basic terms.
Definitional tools are of the essence in any science. The science of correct ‘aqīdah, classically called usūl ad-Dīn, the roots of the Dīn, is no exception.
In particular, we need to gain a clear grasp of the meaning of the following realities, some of them binary (i.e. they occur in pairs) and other “monadic” (i.e. semantically single-celled, such as “Messenger”), while realities from a third group appear to be part of the latter but implicitly share the nature of the former (i.e. “Ahl al-fatrah”, the humans who lived in a time period between two Prophets, since they can be implicitly contrasted with humans who lived during a Prophetic era):
Īmān/mu’min; Kufr/kāfir; Nifāq/munāfiq; Islam/Muslim; Shirk; Ghaflah or heedlessness; (Ahl al-)fatrah; Fitrah; Taklīf; ‘Aql or discernment; Bulūgh as puberty; Sabī or pre-puberty child; Da`wah or call to the true Dīn; Bulūgh / Tablīgh ad-Da`wah (Receipt / Conveyance of the message); Shar`an (= by virtue of the Law), etc.

One of the bet textual aids we can enlist in this whole regard comes from Tortosa in Islamic Spain. Authored by Judge ‘Atiyyah b. ‘Aqīl at-Turtūshī, it is titled Tahrīr al-Maqāl fī Muwāzanah al-A`māl wa-Hukm Ghayr al-Mukallifīn fī al-‘Uqbā wa al-Ma’āl.

Let us start by defining īmān.
Shaykh ‘Alī b. Muhammad at-Tamīmī al-Mu’akhkhar as-Safāqisī, the great mutakallim from Gabes in Tunisia, stated in his commentary on the well-known superb primer from the sharīf Ibrāhīm al-Laqqānī, which he called Taqrīb al-Ba`īd ilā Jawharah at-Tawhīd, that īmān was to attest the veracity of the obligatorily known aspects of Muhammad’s Dīn, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-sallam, such as His Oneness (tawhīd), the sending of Prophets, resurrection of the dead, and Divine requital of actions in the Afterlife. In other words, he added, īmān consisted in the hearth’s humble surrender to that and gathering information about those truths it acknowledged as true.
Having set out the definition of īmān by the bulk of learned scholars, Shaykh ‘Alī at-Tamīmī al-Mu’akhkhar then went on to mention the other view on its signification, as held by the devotees of hadīth, the Mu`tazilah and the Kharijites: Īmān is the combination of belief in the truth (a), its attestation by the tongue (b), and acting upon it (c).
If one has (b) but not (a), he is called a munāfiq if he lived in the Prophetic age, or a zindīq if he lived after that age. The munāfiq is undoubtedly a kāfir, nay, the vilest type of kāfir, because he publicly displays what his heart has no conviction in.
If one lacks (a), attestation of the truth of the obligatorily known aspects of Muhammad’s Dīn, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-sallam, he is a kāfir, more precisely, an open exponent of kufr.
If he joins (a) and (b) without (wholly or partly) (c), i.e. acting by the attested truth he inwardly believes in, he is a fāsiq in the eyes of Ahl as-Sunnah, and an intermediate creature in the eyes of the Mu`tazilah, who deem him outside the circle of īmān without having moved inside the circle of kufr either: The so-called rank between two ranks or station between two stations.
Shaykh ‘Alī at-Tamīmī al-Mu’akhkhar concluded by saying that the definition of īmān by the majority of Muslim savants was the preferable one marked by cogency and correctness.
When explaining the import of Islam, he said it was a noun standing for outward actions, whereas īmān was the interiorized conviction. The two of them were intertwined.

As for Shaykh Zarrūq, he said in the second and last commentary he wrote on al-Ghazālī’s work Qawā`id al-‘Aqā’id, i.e. Ightinām al-Fawā’id, that the exteriorization of lā ilāha illallāh Muhammadur-Rasūllāh represented Islam, whereas inner conviction in what the twin testimonies of faith jointly meant reflected the reality of īmān.
Proclaiming that inner conviction by the tongue was a condition of the validity of īmān according to the savants’ more widely held position, so long as one was not impeded from proclaiming it thereby on account of some recognized justification (duress, dumbness, etc).
If one proclaimed it by the tongue without his heart attesting its veracity, he was a munāfiq by unanimous scholarly consensus, and if he left out acting by it with his limbs, even as far as the primary obligation to pray was concerned, he was termed fāsiq.  
By the way, let us avoid any misconception at source: Believing in One Creator or Supreme Being, even believing in Allah as the only God, is not enough: The shahādah is lā ilāha illallāh Muhammadur-Rasūllāh.  

What is the subject-matter which concerns us here?
Which heading encapsulates it?
Shaykh ‘Atiyyah b. ‘Aqīl at-Turtūshī summarizes it as this:
The ruling on those who have not been reached by the message.
Let us take a step backwards, and distil the main conclusions reached by the said Andalusian scholar in the preceding chapter, the one on Ahl al-fatrah.
Allah gave the message to humans through Prophets.
In the past, there were time gaps between one Prophethood and the other, during which no new Messenger was sent. That interval is termed fatrah. The humans living in any one such temporal interspace are called Ahl al-fatrah.
In our epoch, as we know, that is no longer applicable. The Muhammad age encompasses the entire last cycle of time from the moment he, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-sallam, was historically sent as Prophet until the annihilation of this dunyā.
That is why the pertinent issue now is purely the ruling on those who have not been reached by the final universal version of the message, rather than the judgment applying to Ahl al-fatrah, which would have been the case between the Messengership of ‘Īsā, peace upon him, and the Seal of Messengership by the best of creation, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-sallam.
Nevertheless, that step backwards we hinted at is useful to embed comprehension of certain key concepts.

The umbrella ruling on Ahl al-fatrah is that they are subject to no taklīf.
Taklīf means to obligate one by what entails a burden.
The Lawgiver obligated us (and the jinn) to pray five times a day, to fast from dawn to dusk in Ramadān, to avoid intercourse with a menstruating woman, to marry only women who are lawful to us, to perform the hajj in a particular manner, to exchange gold for silver hand-to-hand, to flog a slanderer and to make testamentary dispositions not exceeding one-third of our estates. All of that entails the placing of some obligatory encumbrances on the human self and its unfettered desires.
We are subject to it. We are muakallafūn.
That is so because we are the addressees of Allah’s Speech to us comprising His positive and negative injunction (command and prohibition).
During an interval between one Messenger and the Next, no such Divine address detailing the commands and prohibitions of His Law was conveyed. The humans living in that intermediate era were accordingly not muakallafūn. As a result, they were exposed neither to the opportunity of earning Divine reward nor to the possibility of attracting Divine chastisement.
Allah has in fact said in His noble Book: «We never punish until We have sent a Messenger» [Sūrah al-Isrā’: 15].

Shaykh ‘Atiyyah b. ‘Aqīl at-Turtūshī classified Ahl al-fatrah among the pre-Islamic Arabs under one of four categories:
•    A group of people who apprehended the truth thanks to their inner perception, in the absence of a Law conveyed to them, and thus attested Allah’s Oneness in their state of ignorance (jāhiliyyah). Quss b. Sā`idah al-Iyādī is a standard example of that existential category;
•    A group of people who, during the Age of Ignorance, practiced a particular sharī`ah which had taken entrenched form in the past, such as Judaism and Christianity (as with the Arabs of Najrān). They had not been addressed by the message conveyed by the relevant Prophet to his specific nation. They had however adopted a subsisting sharī`ah. The member of this second category of Ahl al-fatrah is assigned the ruling pertaining to the followers of that particular sharī`ah. He will be resurrected with them and eternally rewarded or punished as part of them. We know for instance that the Companions of the Trench (Ashāb al-Ukhdūd) were mu’minūn from Najrān;
•    A group of people who tampered with the earlier Revealed Laws and contradicted Prophetic teachings, and who caused fellow humans to emulate them in their deviations, as with ‘Amr b. Luhay, who introduced idol-worshipping and other forms of polytheistic associationism among the Arabs. They are people of kufr and shirk as evidenced by the Book and the Sunnah. Naturally, the belligerent enemies of historical Islam came from the ranks of those who associated themselves with such category of deviant humans. Their predecessors, however, were among Ahl al-fatrah. They were the evil component thereof. They are kuffār punished for their actions in the Hereafter. The Divine proof by which they merited otherworldly castigation had already become established against them before the advent of historical Islam. They attached themselves to the overt advocates of kufr, and earned Divine chastisement for themselves in accordance with that deliberate association [Other scholars, such as Shaykh Ibrāhīm al-Bayjūrī, contend that even alteration of earlier Revealed Laws, including doing so by idol-worshipping, did not take Ahl al-fatrah out of the general ruling to the effect that they were saved from the Fire];
•    Lastly, a group of people who neither had īmān nor worshipped idols. They had neither tawhīd nor shirk. They followed no pre-existing Prophetic sharī`ah not tampered with one and innovated a false dīn. They spent their whole existence in a state of heedlessness (ghaflah) about all of that.  They did not endorse the veracity of resurrection and did not refute it either, by for instance inclining towards the view that time was not finite but everlasting and that events were shaped by time. The last-mentioned one is the view advocated by the Dahriyyah, who are defined by Shaykh ‘Atiyyah b. ‘Aqīl at-Turtūshī as zanādiqah (plural of zindīq) and the basest variety of kuffār [Naturally, as time determined events and never ceased in their opinion, they advocated the futility of acts of worship]. This last group comprises those humans who were as heedless about the Revealed Laws as they were about altering them and setting up ways of life in conflict with the true Dīn. No proof was established in their respect either way, i.e. neither in their favour nor against them. They earned neither reward nor punishment. They are the group which in a literal sense could be truly and fully termed Ahl al-fatrah. There was nothing, as far as they were concerned, whose truthfulness could be attested (īmān) or denied and covered up (kufr). Exactly like pre-puberty children, lunatics and those who have not been reached by the Divine message through a Prophet, they are caused to enter the Garden purely by Allah’s favour, not as a reward for their actions. They are not beasts. They are humans. As such, their destination could only be the Garden or the Fire. There is no Purgatory in Islam. The inhabitants of the Ramparts (al-A`rāf) are merely held back from entering the Garden for a while. They were given neither glad-tidings nor warnings. They cannot be subjected to eternal punishment, because they were not addressed by Allah’s commands and prohibitions, hence taklīf did not embrace them.

We have exhausted the marrow of what Shaykh ‘Atiyyah b. ‘Aqīl at-Turtūshī had to say about Ahl al-fatrah.
Since we made it clear that the issue which concerns us here is a different one, given that the last and most comprehensive sharī`ah has been given to the whole mankind until the end of this world, the function of that traversal was to contextualize, introduce and smoothen our treatment of the core mas’alah.
The ruling on those who have not been reached by the message.
If one has not been reached by the message, Shaykh ‘Atiyyah b. ‘Aqīl at-Turtūshī tells us, he is judged in the same way as Ahl al-fatrah properly so-called, i.e. the aforesaid fourth category of them. The only difference is that Ahl al-fatrah existed in the past, and their age came to a conclusive end as a result of the comprehensive Messengership of Muhammad, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-Sallam. As for the class of people we are dealing with here, their existence can be countenanced in our age and at any time until the extinction of this world.
Shaykh ‘Atiyyah b. ‘Aqīl at-Turtūshī then remarks:
“Having said that, it is far-fetched to imagine a person belonging to one of the nations which live in regions close to the lands of the followers of Islam, whichever frontier post manned by Muslims we might have in mind, who has not been reached by the message. Islam has in fact spread widely, and its seat of political power has extended vastly in both Eastern and Western lands which had been kept away from the Prophet’s direct reach, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-Sallam. At the most, we might say that beyond these nations who live adjacently to the followers of Islam there are other nations inhabiting some remote corners of our planet. In that case, one might conjecture the existence among them of people who have never been reached by the message of Islam and who never received news of our Prophet, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-Sallam, having been sent to them in that capacity.
If a person fulfils that description, and he has neither shirk nor tawhīd, he is exempted from taklīf in this dunyā and from punishment in the Hereafter, so his ultimate destination is the Garden (…)
On the other hand, if the message has reached someone and he did not attest the veracity of the sharī`ah, he has deserved to be chastised by the Fire because the proof has been established against him, whether he is among the People of the Book or not (…)
Allah said to them: «Someone has come to you bringing good news and a warning» [Sūrah al-Mā’idah: 19]  . Because of that, he, peace upon him, said: “By the One in Whose Hand my self is: No Jew or Christian hears about me and does not have īmān in him but that he is a dweller in the Fire.” He, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-Sallam, mentioned the condition that the Jew or the Christian heard about him, peace upon him. That is the actual meaning of the message having reached people (bulūgh ad-da`wah)”.

It is now time to bring some order:

  • When a person from a Christian background like Clint Eastwood and his colleague Nanni Moretti, or from a Jewish background like Woody Allen, expressly declares that he does not believe in Allah and that there is no Day of Rising or Divine requital  of actions, and that those views represent his firm inner conviction and conscious choice, we are not even dealing with a person of heedlessness to begin with, for us to investigate whether he might have been reached by the last Prophetic version of the message: We are dealing here with a professed atheist and overt partisan of kufr.
  • There is no generic category called “mankind” where savants of Islam placed whoever eschewed classification under mu’min or kāfir. The mas’alah is who is saved and who is not. The destination is either to the Garden or the Fire, never in-between. We are neither Christians nor Mu`tazilah. The only issue for our savants, throughout the centuries, has been subjection to taklīf or otherwise. We have covered Ahl al-fatrah at length. A lunatic is under no taklīf. The reason is that he lacks ‘aql or rational discernment between truth and falsehood, right and wrong. He is not responsible for his decisions and their consequences. A minor before puberty (provided he is human as opposed to jinn) is not bound by taklīf according to the favoured position. He is termed sabī in the Law. Yes, we are aware that the entrenched classical view of the Hanafiyyah is that the pre-puberty minor is obligated to have īmān so long as he has discernment, and that, according to al-Bayhaqī, in the early part of Islam the judgments of the Law which imposed obligations on His human slaves were not conditional on the attainment of purity and only attached to one’s capacity to carry them out, before or after purity (Cf. Ibrāhīm al-Laqqānī’s Hidāyah al-Murīd li-Jawharah at-Tawhīd, where he elucidated his own poem on usūl ad-dīn). The person who has not been reached by the message, such as the member of an Aboriginal tribe in some remote area of the earth, is exempted from taklīf. Yes, in this case, too, we are not oblivious to the fact that the entrenched classical view of the Hanafiyyah maintains that even such a person is governed by taklīf, with all that he might reside all his life on the summit of a most impervious mountain, because intellect is present in him, and that suffices, according to that view, to lead him to the general truth; as a consequence of that, if he is inwardly settled on neither īmān nor kufr, he would head for the Fire, although he is excused from complying with the judgments of the Law by virtue of his unawareness of the (details of the) message, and the proof has not been established on him as far those judgments are concerned. He is excused for the fact he does not pray or pay zakāt, but not for the fact he does not attest the truth of fundamental realities of the Unseen (īmān). The basis of that contrary view is that knowledge of Allah is made obligatory by one’s intellect (‘aqlan), not by the Law (shar`an). Shaykh ‘Abdu’l-Ghanī an-Nābulusī, that giant Hanafī from Ottoman Palestine, declares as much in Al-Fath ar-Rabbānī wa al-Fayd ar-Rahmānī: Someone who lives away from human civilization does not commit sinful deeds, but is saddled with the inexcusable sin of kufr vis-à-vis Allah because intellect is enough to guide him to knowledge of Him, along with the signs He has set upon on the horizons and in their selves. That is the approach of Abū Mansūr al-Mātūrīdī. For the Ash`ariyyah, by contrast, a person who, not having been reached by the message, lives in doctrinal heedlessness until he dies, is excused and exempted from punishment; he remains in a state of original fitrah. What is required in his connection is having heard about the truth (sam`), not inborn intellection (‘aql). The Ash`ari view is more persuasive and congruous with Allah’s Justice.
  • … [Illegible part spanning one line of writing. The attachment Ustādh Bradiperr sent to me was a scanned document, and that one line was obscured by a hand over the writing. I texted the Ustādh for clarification, but I was told there was “no cellular network reception” in the locality he was in.]
  • In no age as this technology-dominated one, where markets and time zones are so close to one another and information inundates our lives, have outsiders been so acquainted with the teachings of Islam. Never mind Islam teaching belief in one God or in Muhammad’s status as His Messenger, or the obligation to pray, fasting in Ramadān, the hajj, the Ka`bah, the Holy Sanctuaries, jihād and shahādah, the hudūd, the Garden in store for believers, halāl slaughter and dietary injunctions, the veil, etc, not only some of the most thorough researches on the Dīn come from Cambridge or Tel Aviv, but lay people among the kuffār abundantly trade real or virtual discussions on jizyah, the prohibition of usury among us and other subtle details of Islam. To even suggest that they are oblivious to the message as if some far-away natives inhabiting near-forgotten islands is preposterous. What more is needed? That they should have memorized the different narrations from Imām Mālik in the Mudawwanah and the ‘Utbiyyah?
  • Differentiating between īmān and kufr, and defining the causes of salvation and perdition, have nothing whatsoever to do with whether a person is “bad” or not, let alone the extent of his “badness”. A bad mu’min is a mu’min. A nice person who adheres to kufr is a kāfir. We do not help him by avoiding that truth. We help him by calling him to the true Dīn, so that his goodness can bear fruits and expand. The best people in jāhiliyyah were the best in Islam. We must not cheapen entry in Islam. Allah guides whomsoever He wills. The praise belongs to Allah for the blessing of Islam, which is enough as a blessing. No Islamic scholar, for more than 1400 years, ever dreamed of defining a kāfir “an extensively bad fellow who extensively did harm to the Muslims”. We cannot end up doing what we accuse the Salafis of, i.e. re-writing Islam anew after almost one and a half millennium. We do not in other words need to ride the other extreme to distance ourselves from the senseless terror of suicide-bombers and their likes.
  • Lastly, Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l-Jamā`ah ought to be given the mainstream, well-tested view, rather than a rare anomaly. Let the scholars debate the anomalous rarities inter se. Emphasis is hastily placed on the singular view ascribed to al-Ghazālī that the requirement is “the right message about Islam having reached a person”, and not just the message. It is not only an odd position which does not echo the mainstream ruling of Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l-Jamā`ah, but it is also unsoundly idealistic. Where does one draw the line that the “correct message” has been delivered? Who draws that line? Nowadays, if one brought four Muslims together, he would be likely to hear at least three different versions of what the true message consisted in. Outward realities are judged by the outward. Wholesomeness lies in the median line, in the blessed wasatiyyah.
  • From an archetypal viewpoint, the devastation of the Khawārij beget the over-indulgence of the Murji`ah, just as Mu`tazilī rationalism has its fecundating seeds in the fatalists’ antecedent apathy.

Allah knows best”.
 


From Ibn ‘Atiyyah’s Al-Muharrar al-Wajīz

 

«Kuntum khayra ummatin ukhrijat lin-nās» [Sūrah Āl ‘Imrān: 110].

“‘Umar b. al-Khattāb said: ‘This āyah refers to the early part of our generation, not to its later part.’ ‘Ikrimah said: ‘It was sent down about Ibn Mas`ūd, Sālim (the freed slave of Abū Hudhayfah) and Mu`ādh b. Jabal.’
Judge Abū Muhammad (= Ibn ‘Atiyyah) commented:
These different statements all share the same meaning. Their necessary import is that the āyah has come down about the Companions.
It was said to them: «kuntum khayra ummah». What is alluded to by His statement «ummah» is a specific section of Muhammad’s nation [Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-Sallam]. These people referred to in the āyah represent the choicest members of that nation.
Al-Hasan b. Abi’l-Hasan said, along with a whole group of savants, that what the āyah meant was to address the entire nation as being «the best community ever brought out for mankind» («Kuntum khayra ummatin ukhrijat lin-nās»). Based on this interpretation, the noun «ummah» («nation») would be a noun of genus. It is as if it was said to them: ‘You are the best of nations.’ This interpretation is corroborated by their status as witnesses against people, as well as by the Prophet’s statement, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-Sallam: “We are the last and the frontrunners at the same time”, till the end of the hadīth.
Bahz b. Hakīm has related from his father from the latter’s father that one day, as he was leaning on his back in the direction of the Ka`bah, the Messenger of Allah, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-Sallam, said: “On the Day of Rising, a full number of 70 nations will be completed with us. We are the last and the best of those nations.
Mujāhid said: ‘The meaning of the āyah is: You are the best of people.’ As for al-Hasan (al-Basrī), he stated the following: ‘We are the last nation and the noblest one in the sight of Allah, Exalted is He.’ Here is Abū Hurayrah: ‘What the āyah signifies is: You are for people the best of people.’
Judge Abū Muhammad (= Ibn ‘Atiyyah) commented:
Consonantly with this construction, «ummah» is a noun of genus (encompassing the generality of members of the Muhammadan nation). Abū Hurayrah remarked: ‘They bring the kuffār in fettering chains and cause them to enter Islam.’
The Judge (= Ibn ‘Atiyyah) commented:
No Prophet was sent to all the nations apart from Muhammad, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-Sallam. He, and the members of his nation, call to īmān and fight the rest of the world in the battlefield for its sake. They are therefore the best of people to people (…)

As for His statement «kuntum», outwardly in the past tense, it has the meaning of persistent continuity (= You are so on an ongoing basis), similarly to how He said, «wa-kānallāhu Ghafūran-Rahīman» («Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful») [Sūrah an-Nisā’: 96-99; 100-102 – Sūrah al-Furqān: 70 – Sūrah al-Ahzāb: 50, 52, 59, 73 – Sūrah al-Fath: 14], in addition to other similar examples.
A group of commentators has construed the āyah as indicating that “you were so in Allah’s antecedent Knowledge” or “in the Preserved Tablet”.
A further exegesis is that it means: “You were so in the reports which the by-gone nations have transmitted regarding you”.
The Judge (= Ibn ‘Atiyyah) commented:
A share of the said superiority which Allah has foreordained on behalf of this nation is attained by whoever abides by the conditions laid down in the āyah, to wit, commanding the good, forbidding the wrong, and īmān in Allah.

To put it differently: This description is not anchored in the past and inapplicable to Muslims in our times.
To hold otherwise is to illegitimately vilify those slaves of His who have entered or confirmed entry in the blessed enclosure of īmān, regardless of the worldly costs they had to pay for that guided choice, and who are endeavouring within their decreed human limits to please Him as believers in the truth.
The Companions were gentle with the mu’minīn.
At the same time, the whole humanity apart from Gog and Magog should be looked at as potential stalwarts of Islam rescued from self-destruction.
Success is by Allah.

 



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