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Rafi Usmani’s opinion regarding destruction of Buddha statues

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         Question

Mufti Rafi Usmani, Grand Mufti of Pakistan, has refuted the claim that the destruction of the statues in Afghanistan is an un-Islamic act. In a telephone interview with Albalagh E Journal, he stated the Islamic position on this issue. He noted that the Qur’an does tell us about the example of Prophet Ibrahimalayhi salam, who had destroyed the idols. He also reminded that Prophet Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, did destroy all the 360 idols in the Ka`bah after the conquest of Makkah.”

Could you comment on the usage of this example of Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) and its bearing upon the issue at hand i.e. namely the destruction of the Buddha Statues?

Thank you kindly…

Answer

Let us first take the example of the cleansing of the Ka`bah, in particular, and the Arabian Peninsula, in general, by the Prophet (pbuh). This cleansing should be seen in the light of the Divine law relating to the Messengers of God(1). Thus, because of the referred Divine law relating to the Messengers (Rasu’l), it was not merely the statues and the idols, which were destroyed, but with them the idolaters and those who worshiped these statues were also doomed to complete annihilation(2). It was primarily because of this reason that besides the Arabian Peninsula, the Muslim conquests were not only not followed by any such action against the idols of the conquered nations, but their places of worship and their symbols (like the cross etc.) were also given complete immunity and protection.

As far as the example of Abraham (pbuh) is concerned, it is clear that even though each of the prophets of God is the most outstanding example of morality and submission to God, under his specific circumstances and situation, yet the Qur’an has especially mentioned Abraham (pbuh) as an outstanding example for those, who had accepted faith at the hands of Muhammad (pbuh) from a particular perspective. The particular perspective from which Abraham (pbuh) is mentioned as an outstanding example shall be easily comprehended, if we keep the context in which the Qur’an has mentioned Abraham (pbuh) as an outstanding example in perspective.

If one were to look at Surah Al-Mumtahinah, one would observe that the Surah begins an admonition to the Muslims to not to be sympathetic and friendly toward those whose hatred and enmity toward God, His Prophet (pbuh) and the truth revealed by Him has become obvious. It is precisely in this context that the Qur’an has presented Abraham (pbuh) as an ideal example for the Muslims. The Qur’an says:

And you have a perfect example in Abraham and those, who believed with him, when they said to their people [who rejected]: ‘We are clear of you and of whatever you worship besides God and we have rejected you [and your polytheistic beliefs] and an extreme enmity and hatred has begun between you and us forever, unless you believe in the One God [alone]. But for Abraham’s promise to his father: ‘I will surely pray for your forgiveness, though I do not have control [to get] anything for you from God.’ [And they prayed:] ‘Lord, in You do we put our trust, toward You we turn in repentance and to You shall be our ultimate return.’

It should be clear that the example of Abraham (pbuh) has been presented in the Surah is specifically from the perspective of his and his followers’ attitude toward the rejecters of God’s guidance, even after it had shone upon them like the sun in a clear blue sky.

Moreover, were we to take a closer look at the particular incident in which Abraham (pbuh) destroyed the idols, we would realize that Qur’an has not referred to it as one of Abraham’s actions of cleansing the world from idols; on the contrary, the Qur’an has referred to the incident as one in which Abraham (pbuh) took to practically pointing out the idiocy of worshiping idols. It would be extremely wrong to interpret Abraham’s actions as one of destroying idols for the purpose of cleansing the environment from the filth of idols, rather than as one of teaching the idolaters a lesson, because then it would have been extremely wrong on Abraham’s part to leave the greatest of those idols standing. Had Abraham (pbuh) intended the cleansing of the environment, then obviously he would not have left the greatest of these false gods standing, in fact, then he would first have destroyed the greater among these false gods. The Qur’an has clearly mentioned that Abraham (pbuh) left the greater among these gods standing, ‘so that the idolaters may return to it and seek its help’ (Al-Anbiyaa 21: 54).

Furthermore, those who consider Abraham’s actions to entail an ‘ideal example’ for themselves, should not forget that Abraham’s referred action was planned and implemented in the worst of circumstances, where he was surrounded and threatened by a group of highly aggressive idolaters. If there is an example in the actions of Abraham (pbuh), it is obviously not for a state sponsored action against idolatry, but for individuals living in an environment dominated by idolatry. Then, not only that, the ‘example’ in Abraham’s action should not be limited only to the act of destruction of the idols, but should also be maintained in the prophet’s preparedness to face all the consequences of his actions.

In view of the foregoing explanation, it should be clear that the justification of the action sought from the cited incidents from the lives of the two prophets is completely misplaced and irrelevant.

We hope this helps.

May 21, 2001

  1. For details relating to this Divine law, please refer to a couple of our earlier responses, titled:”Is there a difference between Nabi(prophets)and Rasu’l(Messengers) and”Some clarifications regarding the position and the mission of the messengers of God”
  2. The polytheists were doomed to complete annihilation, while those, who ascribed to a monotheistic creed (like the Jews and the Christians) were subjected to complete political submission.
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