Islamic scholar Jamal Al-Banna to the Yemen Times (Part II & final) Jamal Al-Banna on the Qur’an, politics and renewing civilizations [Archives:2003/09/Interview]

February 3 2003

Jamal Al-Banna continues with us from last week in an interesting venture through religion, politics and culture. Al-Banna, brother of Martyr Hassan Al-Banna who founded the Ikhwan Al-Muslemeen movement in Egypt, came to visit Yemen for a few days earlier this month as a guest of Center of Studies and Research chaired by Mr. Faris Al-Saqqaf, an activist in various intellectual and cultural fields.
Q: You preach that Islam is a religion of sense and logic, yet at the same time there are several strange sayings that not so logical in Islam. How do you explain that?
A: To start with, let me emphasize the fact that Islam is a religion that ensured freedoms; freedom of mind, thoughts, speech and even freedom of religion. Like I said earlier there is no compulsion in Islam whatsoever.
On this base, the heart of Islam is built on rights to apply one’s mind in his daily life. This means that a normal man must be able to judge according to his own sense and logic and behave accordingly, without need to refer to what the so many arguments and debates taking place at a higher level among the religious scholars and so on.
Although what I just said may sound very strange and in fact unheard of especially among the Islamic preachers themselves, and this is quite understood because it limits their authority and power over the common man, but I derived this from the essence of Islam itself. God says in his holy book An-Najm (the Star) Verse 32
“Those who avoid enormities of sin and abominations, save the unwilled offenses / the small faults – (for them) lo! thy lord is of vast mercy. He is best \Aware of you (from the time) when He created you from the earth, and when ye were hidden in the bellies of your mothers. Therefore ascribe not purity unto yourselves. He is best aware of him who wardth off (evil)”
So it is clearly understood that god expects human beings to make mistakes and to err.
In fact Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) said “All of my people is forgiven but those who declare their sins with pride”. And also he said: “If you were not to err, god would have done with you and brought new people who would err and repent, for them to ask his forgiveness and Him to forgive”.
Which means that it is natural to sin, yet the right way to deal with this nature is to seek forgiveness and repent after sinning and not to continue.
However, there are two kinds of sins as classified in Islam. There are the major sins which are clearly specified in the Qur’an and their punishment whether on earth or left to God in the life hereafter is clearly dictated as well.
And there are the minor sins, and those are the ones which are the topics of dispute among the various sects of the religion and many Islamic scholars. This is what I am talking about when I say that Islam is a religion of logic.
The major commandments in Islam are ones of logic, not to kill, to steal, to lie, to commit adultery… etc. And these are common not only between religions of the book, but also all human philosophies and mythologies. There is no dispute among them all basically because they are natural logical principle of life. What is below that is what God called as “small offenses” and should man is expected to err in his judgment in them and to be forgiven as long as he seeks forgiveness.
Q: Is that what you are trying to convey through your new school of thought. Can you tell us about this school of thought?
A: Any movement that does not relate to the humanitarian aspect of people would wind up to be just a theory and idealistic mottos without effects. Unfortunately, human notions and intellectual thoughts are absent from the traditional Islamic concepts. Application of the Islamic constitution (sharee’a) with no regards to the human aspects will be wrong, and will invariably cause negative outcomes to spring in the process, such as fanatic beliefs and so on.
The school of thought I am preaching depends on the understanding of human nature while applying the commandments of God in the Qur’an.
Q: You have written several books about the concepts of syndicates in Islam, can you tell us about that? And what is the relation between your movement and syndicates?
A: I believe that since Islam is based in its essence on the concept of justice, and syndicates are only a mechanism in which justice is promoted and enforced, that certainly there will be a strong relation between Islam and syndicates. You see, Islam is a religion that is based on freedoms, so it is naturally that it would encourage syndicates.
A syndicate is established, when a number of people with a common orientation gets together and form an organization through which they demand their rights. So they have the freedom to voice their opinion and complain about the injustice- if any- that had fallen onto them.
The European culture was established on two pillars, freedom and power; whereas the Islamic was built on justice. Ironically, through their freedom the Europeans found justice, and we, could not establish justice because we didn’t have the freedom to even live our religion.
What we are trying to do in our preaching is to instate the true faith and the true spirit of Islam, which is based on justice. Judaism is spirit is monotheism, Christianity’s spirit is love and Islam is justice, we are trying to establish Islam through establishing justice.
Q: “The Civilization Project – Frankly” is the name of one of your books in which you talked about the problem of today’s Islamic world. Can you tell us about that?
A: In its core, a civilization is nothing but a set of principles and ideals. For example, the Roman Empire civilization was established on the rule of law and authority. Yet the laws they dictated nevertheless were bias in favor of the Romans who stated them. The Greek civilization was established on the idea of democracy – rule by votes, yet they had their weak points and their philosophers invariably went through dark phases when this method was not the best in effect.
None of the man made civilizations was a complete one. A complete civilization is one where are the great principles prevail over whatever is else, such as justice, freedom, equality, honesty, peace and so on.
A society that is rich and immoral is not a civilized society, a society that is educated but uses its science and logic to rule over other nations and other people is not a noble society and is not civilized.
So there are two points here: a civilization is a set of ethics that govern a society, and any man made principles are prone to bias and misjudgment. Therefore for a complete civilization, the principles much be derived or obtained from a source that would not be bias yet should be all knowing and wise. And how other than God would that be?
Concluding all this, a complete civilization is only that one which follows the true principles from god. And those are conveyed to the people through holy books and prophets. And this leads us finally, that the only way to be followed in order to provide a complete civilization is to follow the commands of Qur’an. Our gateway to a true and complete civilization is the holy Qur’an and only Qur’an. And that is the only way any righteous civilization could exist.
Q: Speaking about Qur’an, you said something like revolutionizing the Qur’an. What did you mean by that?
A: The Qur’an has come to people as it itself explained: to guide them from darkness to light, i.e. as a method of directing humanity from a situation they were in at that time, to the better creating ideal circumstances for humanity.
The Qur’anic verses contained revolutionary thoughts that were so apposed at that time in which it was sent 600 AD. It was simply a new set of norms and principles that were in the form of beautiful poetry like verses. In fact it is known that one of the most powerful point of the Qur’an is its ability to attract the listeners through its melody, while being recited.
A fact that was narrated more than once in the Qur’an about the disbelieves almost being persuaded by it exclaiming that it surely is magic. So as a concept, it was a tool through which people’s mentality and souls were affected, and a kind of light, by which people are guided.
The mistake that many people make today is that they considered Qur’an as a source for knowledge, science and even philosophy. I totally disagree with this, if they should seek knowledge they should learn it from books and studies, if they want philosophies they should seek it from philosophers and the like not from the Qur’an.
Many scholars have committed great mistakes in their statements and decisions through this mistake, especially when the topic is a critical one regarding a sensitive issue that has not been clearly stated in the Qur’an.
Because this way, they are tearing a complete object into shreds, while they are trying to explain every word and every sentence in the Qur’an in independence to the other verses. Qur’an is a book that should be read as one piece, it loses its essence if it should be divided.
Q: What do you think about today’s political situation?
A: What is happening today is an accumulation of a number of mistakes all together. It’s like how a knot becomes so complicated that there is no solution to untie it and the only left solution is to cut. The nations were the victim of unwise leaderhips, yet I think we deserve what is happening to us.
God says: “And fear a chastisement (an affliction and trail) which cannot fall exclusively on those of you who wrong-doers (but it may afflict all the good and the bad people), and know that Allah is sever in punishment” Al-Anfal (Spoils of War) Verse 25
Every cruel powerful person finds a more cruel and more powerful person, and that is what happened.
As for Palestine, it is a centuries-old issue, not one yesterday and not tomorrow shall the crises be solved. But it will someday I am sure, because putting Israel in the heart of Arabia is not natural. And no matter how much time it takes eventually it will be taken out from the Arabian land just like how France left Algeria after 120 years or the whites in South Africa.
Why I am saying that we as nations deserve the humiliation that has fallen onto us, is because we as Arabian nations did not do what we should have. We did not stand by our own rights, we did not defend ourselves against external misuse of our land and resources, and we do not even protest or show our objection towards what we think is unfair to us.
Other nations have gone out in millions in the streets and fought for their rights, they did not avail the rights they are enjoying today easily. But because they are alive and active they felt the injustice and revolted against it. Our people are not only sleeping, you can say that they are dead!
And if there was one thing the governments have succeeded in doing, it is busying the common man running after his daily meal.
Q: After a long journey and more than a hundred books and more than those articles, where did you finally reach?
A: After so long of hard work and research and studies I can say that I barely reached the starting point. But I can say that the seeds we planted years ago are finally seeing light now. I am not illusioned to think that any consequence could take effect now or even soon. Maybe it will take tens of years, in the coming generations, but isn’t that the way philosophies work? After all, a concrete structure for such revolutionary thoughts can not take place over night, I know.
Q: What is the role of media instruments like Yemen Times in today’s world?
A: Your role is quite important, for you have the ability to convey to the external world. You can correct or at least help correct the perception that the English speaking world has of Islam, especially in a world where Muslims are something and Islam is something else.
Muslims of today have gone under several types of pressure that caused them to be what they are today, but Islam which is Qura’n and assured authentised Sunna, (sayings of the prophet (pbuh).
Just tell the world that Islam is a religion that respects and protects all freedoms and acknowledges all religions and faiths.
Al-Hajj ( the Pilgrimage) Verse 17
“Lo! Those who believe (this Revelation), and those who are Jews, and those Sabaens and the Christians and the Magians and the idolaters – Lo! Allah will decide between them on the Day of Resurrection, Lo! Allah is Witness over all things.”
Any dispute in this matter is left entirely to Allah and not to man.