Imagine you had to choose between living in one of two communities.
In the first community, everyone’s foundational belief is the same as yours. In the case of a submitter, the community believes in God, their shahadah is laillahilallah, they get up at dawn and do their Salat and read the Quran.
But in this community their culture has no tolerance towards any ideas outside of what they deem as acceptable opinion. If you were to challenge the group on any of their understandings they become aggressive and hostile. They have a tendency to insult, bully, criticize, and even have been known to banish anyone who refuses to agree with their interpretation on certain matters.
Community # 2
The other community, in contrast, doesn’t believe the same as you do. This means in the case for a submitter the community wouldn’t be particularly religious or may even be idol worshippers, but the people are nice, cordial, equitable, moral and tolerant. While they don’t share the same belief as you, they are never aggressing and always respectful.
Which of these two communities would you want to live in?
Obviously, I think most everyone would prefer to live in the latter community and not the former. Then why is it that most Muslim nations and some Submitter communities reflect that of the first community despite the ample evidence that such a structure leads to an oppressive society? Ironically, the best nations for individuals to live are places like the United States which despite their lack of belief create the most hospitable places for individuals who believe.
I think the reason for this persistent error by many “believing” communities is that they confound the community with the individual. Consider another question who is more likely to make it to Paradise in the Hereafter? A person that doesn’t believe in God, or the Hereafter, or even worships idols, but is incredibly nice? Or the person who believes in God, believes in Judgement Day, and leads a righteous life, but has some behavior issues that they need to address e.g. loosing their temper, being rude, or gossiping? Based on the verses of the Quran the first person probability of making to Paradise in the Hereafter would be exponentially less likely than the person who has all the right foundational beliefs, but requires some effort to fix their behavioral issues.
[4:48] GOD does not forgive idolatry, but He forgives lesser offenses for whomever He wills. Anyone who sets up idols beside GOD, has forged a horrendous offense.
إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَغْفِرُ أَنْ يُشْرَكَ بِهِ وَيَغْفِرُ مَا دُونَ ذَٰلِكَ لِمَنْ يَشَاءُ وَمَنْ يُشْرِكْ بِاللَّهِ فَقَدِ افْتَرَىٰ إِثْمًا عَظِيمًا
[4:116] GOD does not forgive idol worship (if maintained until death), and He forgives lesser offenses for whomever He wills. Anyone who idolizes any idol beside GOD has strayed far astray.
إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَغْفِرُ أَنْ يُشْرَكَ بِهِ وَيَغْفِرُ مَا دُونَ ذَٰلِكَ لِمَنْ يَشَاءُ وَمَنْ يُشْرِكْ بِاللَّهِ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ ضَلَالًا بَعِيدًا
[47:34] Those who disbelieve and repel from the path of GOD, then die as disbelievers, GOD will never forgive them.
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا وَصَدُّوا عَنْ سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ ثُمَّ مَاتُوا وَهُمْ كُفَّارٌ فَلَنْ يَغْفِرَ اللَّهُ لَهُمْ
For an individual, if they live a full life and fail to meet this basic criteria, before their death, they will not make it in the Hereafter, irrespective how nice they were.
[2:62] Surely, those who believe, those who are Jewish, the Christians, and the converts; anyone who (1) believes in GOD, and (2) believes in the Last Day, and (3) leads a righteous life, will receive their recompense from their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَالَّذِينَ هَادُوا وَالنَّصَارَىٰ وَالصَّابِئِينَ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا فَلَهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ عِنْدَ رَبِّهِمْ وَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ
Therefore, this shows that in the case of an individual, belief is more important than behavior, since without the proper belief there is no hope for them in the Hereafter. But in the case of a community, from the thought experiment above, we see that that the behavior of the community is more important than the individual member’s belief. This is because without the community possessing the right behavior, an individual cannot be free to believe and worship how they deem best according to their own understanding.
This explains the reason to why so many Muslim nations and some submitter communities fall into this trap of becoming some of the most intolerant places in the world. These groups are applying the criteria of the individual to the community. It is true as an individual we must be zealots to make sure we maintain the correct belief foremost and then work on our behavior, but for a community the priorities should be reversed. In a community, people need to be complete zealots to make sure the behavior of the people of the community is first addressed before considering the belief of its members. In a community bullying, aggression, mocking, ridiculing, should not be tolerated irrespective of the person’s belief.
The pushback from most submitters to this claim typically comes in one of two forms of arguments. The first line of argumentation is regarding the concern around tolerating sinful behavior in a society, and the second line of argumentation is the claim that if a community is not primarily focused on belief of the members of that community it will lead to the deterioration of the religion. Let’s evaluate these two arguments.
Argument #1 – Tolerance and Sin in a Community
If a community focuses only on the behavior of its members and not the belief of its members does that mean that the community would be tolerating sinful behavior? Typically the verse that is brought up to make this point is the following:
[8:25] Beware of a retribution that may not be limited to the evildoers among you. You should know that GOD’s retribution is severe.
وَاتَّقُوا فِتْنَةً لَا تُصِيبَنَّ الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا مِنْكُمْ خَاصَّةً وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ شَدِيدُ الْعِقَابِ
The understanding from this verse is that a society that tolerates sinful behavior, like homosexuality, may be hit by an earthquake. So therefore despite not all the members partaking in the sin, their apathy towards the sinful behavior leads to a retribution that the entire community will suffer from.
According to the Quran, the most gross sin someone can commit is idol worship. Does that mean in a submitting society that idol worship will be prohibited for people and therefore individuals would lose their freedom of religion? Clearly such an understanding would be counter to the teachings of the Quran.
[2:256] There shall be no compulsion in religion: the right way is now distinct from the wrong way. Anyone who denounces the devil and believes in GOD has grasped the strongest bond; one that never breaks. GOD is Hearer, Omniscient.
لَا إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ قَدْ تَبَيَّنَ الرُّشْدُ مِنَ الْغَيِّ فَمَنْ يَكْفُرْ بِالطَّاغُوتِ وَيُؤْمِنْ بِاللَّهِ فَقَدِ اسْتَمْسَكَ بِالْعُرْوَةِ الْوُثْقَىٰ لَا انْفِصَامَ لَهَا وَاللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ
God even goes so far to command the believers not to even curse the idols of the idol worshippers.
[6:108] Do not curse the idols they set up beside GOD, lest they blaspheme and curse GOD, out of ignorance. We have adorned the works of every group in their eyes. Ultimately, they return to their Lord, then He informs them of everything they had done.
وَلَا تَسُبُّوا الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ فَيَسُبُّوا اللَّهَ عَدْوًا بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ كَذَٰلِكَ زَيَّنَّا لِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ عَمَلَهُمْ ثُمَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِمْ مَرْجِعُهُمْ فَيُنَبِّئُهُمْ بِمَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ
So does that mean that a society that allows individuals to perform idol worship implies that it is a society that tolerates idol worship? Individuals can be 100% against something for themselves, but this does not mean that they have to prohibit others from the action in order to prove they do not tolerate the action.
The rule here is that we should never under any circumstances condone sin. People in a submitting community should be free to sin as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others, but it is the responsibility of the submitters in that community to never backdown from calling the behavior what it is. This idea is captured in the following verses:
Do Not Defend the Transgressors
[4:107] Do not argue on behalf of those who have wronged their own souls; GOD does not love any betrayer, guilty.
وَلَا تُجَادِلْ عَنِ الَّذِينَ يَخْتَانُونَ أَنْفُسَهُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ مَنْ كَانَ خَوَّانًا أَثِيمًا
[4:108] They hide from the people, and do not care to hide from GOD, though He is with them as they harbor ideas He dislikes. GOD is fully aware of everything they do.
يَسْتَخْفُونَ مِنَ النَّاسِ وَلَا يَسْتَخْفُونَ مِنَ اللَّهِ وَهُوَ مَعَهُمْ إِذْ يُبَيِّتُونَ مَا لَا يَرْضَىٰ مِنَ الْقَوْلِ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ بِمَا يَعْمَلُونَ مُحِيطًا
You Do Not Help Them by Being “Nice”
[4:109] Here you are arguing on their behalf in this world; who is going to argue with GOD on their behalf on the Day of Resurrection? Who is going to be their advocate?
هَاأَنْتُمْ هَٰؤُلَاءِ جَادَلْتُمْ عَنْهُمْ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا فَمَنْ يُجَادِلُ اللَّهَ عَنْهُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ أَمْ مَنْ يَكُونُ عَلَيْهِمْ وَكِيلًا
[4:110] Anyone who commits evil, or wrongs his soul, then implores GOD for forgiveness, will find GOD Forgiving, Most Merciful.
وَمَنْ يَعْمَلْ سُوءًا أَوْ يَظْلِمْ نَفْسَهُ ثُمَّ يَسْتَغْفِرِ اللَّهَ يَجِدِ اللَّهَ غَفُورًا رَحِيمًا
[4:111] Anyone who earns a sin, earns it to the detriment of his own soul. GOD is Omniscient, Most Wise.
وَمَنْ يَكْسِبْ إِثْمًا فَإِنَّمَا يَكْسِبُهُ عَلَىٰ نَفْسِهِ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًا
Some individuals understand this verse to mean that we should not defend or be nice to anyone who is a transgressor, but I think this is a gross misrepresentation of what these verses are stating. Such extreme interpretations would imply that someone who was a transgressor should not have any representation in a court of law, and that they should not be dealt with in an equitable manner. Such understandings goes against numerous verses of the Quran that command the believers to always be equitable in all our dealings, and that everyone has basic rights that must be upheld irrespective of what transgression they committed. (2:190, 2:193, 4:29, 4:135)
[5:8] O you who believe, you shall be absolutely equitable, and observe GOD, when you serve as witnesses. Do not be provoked by your conflicts with some people into committing injustice. You shall be absolutely equitable, for it is more righteous. You shall observe GOD. GOD is fully Cognizant of everything you do.
يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ لِلَّهِ شُهَدَاءَ بِالْقِسْطِ وَلَا يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ عَلَىٰ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا اعْدِلُوا هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَىٰ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ
These verses are informing the believers to not argue in defense of the transgression of the transgressors, and if a believer attempts to do so they are not helping the individual, but only hurting their souls because they will be confounding the truth with falsehood. As believers we should never sugar coat sin. If we do so it will not help anyone and will only be to the detriment of our souls.
The other two verses that individuals will resort to use in order to justify their intolerance in a society are the following:
[48:29] Muhammad—the messenger of GOD—and those with him are harsh and stern against the disbelievers, but kind and compassionate amongst themselves. You see them bowing and prostrating, as they seek GOD’s blessings and approval. Their marks are on their faces, because of prostrating. This is the same example as in the Torah. Their example in the Gospel is like plants that grow taller and stronger, and please the farmers. He thus enrages the disbelievers. GOD promises those among them who believe and lead a righteous life forgiveness and a great recompense.
مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ وَالَّذِينَ مَعَهُ أَشِدَّاءُ عَلَى الْكُفَّارِ رُحَمَاءُ بَيْنَهُمْ تَرَاهُمْ رُكَّعًا سُجَّدًا يَبْتَغُونَ فَضْلًا مِنَ اللَّهِ وَرِضْوَانًا سِيمَاهُمْ فِي وُجُوهِهِمْ مِنْ أَثَرِ السُّجُودِ ذَٰلِكَ مَثَلُهُمْ فِي التَّوْرَاةِ وَمَثَلُهُمْ فِي الْإِنْجِيلِ كَزَرْعٍ أَخْرَجَ شَطْأَهُ فَآزَرَهُ فَاسْتَغْلَظَ فَاسْتَوَىٰ عَلَىٰ سُوقِهِ يُعْجِبُ الزُّرَّاعَ لِيَغِيظَ بِهِمُ الْكُفَّارَ وَعَدَ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ مِنْهُمْ مَغْفِرَةً وَأَجْرًا عَظِيمًا
[58:22] You will not find people who believe in GOD and the Last Day befriending those who oppose GOD and His messenger, even if they were their parents, or their children, or their siblings, or their tribe. For these, He decrees faith into their hearts, and supports them with inspiration from Him, and admits them into gardens with flowing streams wherein they abide forever. GOD is pleased with them, and they are pleased with Him. These are the party of GOD. Most assuredly, GOD’s party are the winners.
لَا تَجِدُ قَوْمًا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ يُوَادُّونَ مَنْ حَادَّ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَلَوْ كَانُوا آبَاءَهُمْ أَوْ أَبْنَاءَهُمْ أَوْ إِخْوَانَهُمْ أَوْ عَشِيرَتَهُمْ أُولَٰئِكَ كَتَبَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمُ الْإِيمَانَ وَأَيَّدَهُمْ بِرُوحٍ مِنْهُ وَيُدْخِلُهُمْ جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِي مِنْ تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمْ وَرَضُوا عَنْهُ أُولَٰئِكَ حِزْبُ اللَّهِ أَلَا إِنَّ حِزْبَ اللَّهِ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
The Quran is very clear who we are not allowed to befriend and consistently it is individuals that are aggressive and wish us harm.
[60:8] GOD does not enjoin you from befriending those who do not fight you because of religion, and do not evict you from your homes. You may befriend them and be equitable towards them. GOD loves the equitable.
لَا يَنْهَاكُمُ اللَّهُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ وَلَمْ يُخْرِجُوكُمْ مِنْ دِيَارِكُمْ أَنْ تَبَرُّوهُمْ وَتُقْسِطُوا إِلَيْهِمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُقْسِطِينَ
[60:9] GOD enjoins you only from befriending those who fight you because of religion, evict you from your homes, and band together with others to banish you. You shall not befriend them. Those who befriend them are the transgressors.
إِنَّمَا يَنْهَاكُمُ اللَّهُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ قَاتَلُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ وَأَخْرَجُوكُمْ مِنْ دِيَارِكُمْ وَظَاهَرُوا عَلَىٰ إِخْرَاجِكُمْ أَنْ تَوَلَّوْهُمْ وَمَنْ يَتَوَلَّهُمْ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ
[3:118] O you who believe, do not befriend outsiders who never cease to wish you harm; they even wish to see you suffer. Hatred flows out of their mouths and what they hide in their chests is far worse. We thus clarify the revelations for you, if you understand.
يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَتَّخِذُوا بِطَانَةً مِنْ دُونِكُمْ لَا يَأْلُونَكُمْ خَبَالًا وَدُّوا مَا عَنِتُّمْ قَدْ بَدَتِ الْبَغْضَاءُ مِنْ أَفْوَاهِهِمْ وَمَا تُخْفِي صُدُورُهُمْ أَكْبَرُ قَدْ بَيَّنَّا لَكُمُ الْآيَاتِ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ
Again this corresponds with the emphasis on behavior over belief when dealing with a community. There is one other verse in 60:4 that is often cited to justify harsh behavior towards individuals who have a difference in belief.
[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 that you worship besides GOD. We denounce you, and you will see nothing from us except animosity and hatred until you believe in GOD ALONE.” However, a mistake was committed by Abraham when he said to his father, “I will pray for your forgiveness, but I possess no power to protect you from GOD.” “Our Lord, we trust in You, and submit to You; to You is the final destiny.
قَدْ كَانَتْ لَكُمْ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ فِي إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَالَّذِينَ مَعَهُ إِذْ قَالُوا لِقَوْمِهِمْ إِنَّا بُرَآءُ مِنْكُمْ وَمِمَّا تَعْبُدُونَ مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ كَفَرْنَا بِكُمْ وَبَدَا بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَكُمُ الْعَدَاوَةُ وَالْبَغْضَاءُ أَبَدًا حَتَّىٰ تُؤْمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَحْدَهُ إِلَّا قَوْلَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ لِأَبِيهِ لَأَسْتَغْفِرَنَّ لَكَ وَمَا أَمْلِكُ لَكَ مِنَ اللَّهِ مِنْ شَيْءٍ رَبَّنَا عَلَيْكَ تَوَكَّلْنَا وَإِلَيْكَ أَنَبْنَا وَإِلَيْكَ الْمَصِيرُ
The part of the verse that is usually emphasized is when it states: “and you will see nothing from us except animosity and hatred until you believe in GOD ALONE.”” from this reading alone it may appear that Abraham was the aggressor in this exchange, but we know that as submitters we are prohibited from ever being the aggressor (2:190, 2:193), therefore there is no way that Abraham was advocating aggression. This becomes more clear when we look at the Arabic to realize that the animosity and hatred between Abraham and the individuals he was addressing was indeed mutual when it uses the expression ” بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَكُمُ ” which translates to “between us and between you [all].” Below is the word by word break down of this portion of the verse.
|60||4||21||كَفَرْنَا||We have denied / denounced||kafarnā|
|60||4||22||بِكُمْ||[of] you [all],||bikum|
|60||4||23||وَبَدَا||and it has appeared||wabadā|
|60||4||25||وَبَيْنَكُمُ||and between you [all]||wabaynakumu|
|60||4||27||وَالْبَغْضَاءُ||and the hatred||wal-baghḍāu|
|60||4||30||تُؤْمِنُوا||you [all] believe||tu’minū|
Argument #2 – Apathy and The Deterioration of Religion
The second reasoning to why communities feel justified to prioritize belief over behavior is the fear that if they don’t then it will allow all kinds of innovations and sin to pour into the religion corrupting the religion from within, thus the people feel obligated that they have to safeguard such an assault by policing people’s thoughts and beliefs. Ironically, such ideology actually has the reverse outcome, propagating the very thing that it attempted to prevent. A society that has a culture that ostracizes or imposes hardships on individuals who speak out inevitably creates a society that is oppressive.
The only way everyone in a community will all believe the exact same on every matter occurs by one of two methods: either by the members of the community outsourcing their understanding of such matters to that of a few and thus forming a hierarchy in the religion, or by force, which goes against the teachings of the Quran.
[10:99] Had your Lord willed, all the people on earth would have believed. Do you want to force the people to become believers?
وَلَوْ شَاءَ رَبُّكَ لَآمَنَ مَنْ فِي الْأَرْضِ كُلُّهُمْ جَمِيعًا أَفَأَنْتَ تُكْرِهُ النَّاسَ حَتَّىٰ يَكُونُوا مُؤْمِنِينَ
A community that centralizes their understanding is more likely to be sent astray than one where each individual thinks independently. This is because it is harder to corrupt an ideology when it is collectively shared by many in a decentralized manner than when it is centralized and dictated from the top down by leaders to their followers. The reason is because when an ideology is decentralized, in order for the ideology to become corrupted each free thinking practitioner of that ideology in that community would need to individually be sent astray. Alternatively, when it is centralized in a hierarchy, all Satan needs to do is corrupt the individuals at the top of the hierarchy for it to infect all their followers.
Take the example of the Mullahs in Iran, or the Muslim Ulama, or the Pope whose false interpretations has caused the deception of the billions of their followers who outsourced their critical thinking to their leaders. In such a hierarchical structure Satan’s job becomes drastically easier as all he needs to do to send an entire community astray is by focusing his efforts towards the few leaders on the top. And once those dominos fall the whole religion comes crashing down with it.
So when prioritizing which is more important either belief or behavior, it is crucial to assess the lens by which we are evaluating. While for an individual it is more important that they have the right belief, the same is not so for a community. As for a community, it is more important that the members of that community encourage each other to behave in a manner that is equitable, kind, compassionate, and tolerant rather than being overly concerned about any individuals personal belief. By following such guidelines it will help safeguard God’s religion to foster an environment that reduces the devil’s influence and creates a society that is more in line with God’s teachings in the Quran.