“The Concept of Ridâ (Approval) in the Qur’an and the Misunderstanding of Coexistence”

[This is the twelfth in a series of my notes on the International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on Islamic Law and Ethics held in Herndon, VA in June  2014. These notes are NOT a transcript, but a lightly edited presentation of  my perception of the discussion. The proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone. Names of participants (other than mine) in the general discussion have been omitted by request of the conference director.]

“The Concept of Ridâ (Approval) in the Qur’an and the Misunderstanding of Coexistence”

Asaad al-Saleh, University of Utah

The motivation of people to dismiss my experiences in the West is the identification of “The West” with “Jews and Christians” and to identify what is happening not by actualities but by the verse in the Qur’an “Neither Jews nor Christians will approve of you until you follow their religion.” Being in cultural studies I tried to related this to history and its historical context. One Facebook post said the crusades against Islam haven’t stopped at all and the US is responsible for Afghanistan, Palestine, Syria, Libya. Why did they give Iraq to the Shia? Why did they turn Sudan into two states? Another wrote, “We don’t see it as a crusade but they have explicit said it is so,” referring to Bush’s notorious speech. “They occupy the Muslim countries they no longer find obedient to them.” Finally, “the dirty face will remain dirty no matter how much you try to polish it. The US spilled the blood of Muslims and drank it to the full. The glaring example of Palestine can never be ignored.” I was aware of such attitudes but I never expected a casual positive comment about a positive experience in the West to trigger such a firestorm. Even educated Arabs think that a president who made a reckless remark was speaking for all the American people. Politics can explain but not justify such aggressive attitudes. My concern is with those who only referred to the verse as if the text is sufficient to prove the point. Growing up in the Middle East, I remember it being used a lot out of context as a timeless description of the eternal attitude of Jews and Christians. Since then I have found disturbingly numerous examples of the verse quoted in unsettling circumstances.

When soccer star Samir Nassri was left out of the French World Cup team for 2014, his girlfriend from England made news headlines by using Twitter to insult the French coach. One commentator in the popular Algerian newspaper, Echorouk, followed the Qur’anic verse about ridâ with a message directed to Nassri that that what happened to him is “the penalty for everyone who forgets his homeland.” Similarly, Hafiz Mirazi is a popular TV broadcaster at Arabiyya who quoted this verse to attribute his dismissal to the Jews and Christians. A newspaper in Turkey printed the headline, “Neither the Jews or the Christians will ever be satisfied with you Mr. Erdogan.” They believe that the US is either Jewish or Christian rather than a secular country. In Finland 70% and in Sweden 60% do not identify themselves with Christianity. Some recent scholars give the vision that by 2050 most Christians will be outside of the West.

We have no established meaning of this verse from the Prophet, the Companions, or the followers, only from later interpreters like Tabari, etc. Almost all of the classical exegetes took it to address the Prophet himself, not Muslims in general.  Jews and Christians are spoken of in various ways in the Qur’an many of which have general import, but not this verse, which advises the Prophet not to be distracted from making the call to the truth even if not everyone accepts it.

Why do the people in the Arab world have this attitude? Umar agreed with Christians from Syria to take precautions against future exigencies. The Crusades and colonialism played a role, as did he US invasion of Iraq and the history of Orientalism. You cannot try to deconstruct this interpretation without being accused of questioning the legitimacy of the Qur’an. Ridâ only means agreement. There is no connotation of war against Islam. The word appears in the hadith that a woman’s silence in response to a proposal of marriage constitutes consent. There is no charge of hatred in the absence of agreement or consent.


Shahirah Mahmood, University of Wisconsin – Madison. Asaad’s paper is based on social media (Facebook). I think what Asad is trying to show is that people are using the verse as a legitimizing force for their feeling of “otherness.” American military action is seen not as motivated by nation interest but by civilizational struggle. Are they angry about US involvement in the Middle East or at their own leaders?

Jacquelene Brinton, University of Kansas. Asaad’s paper focuses on the problems of application of ancient texts in the present. This paper could have been an opportunity to speak of the conflation of politics and religion. I would be careful about essentializing the Arab community based on anonymous Facebook posts. In dealing with media you must deal with the issue of what it is that is responding. There are resources out there. More nuance is needed when you give the example of the response regarding the footballer talking about all Christians and Jews or one specific country or team: There are lots of different opinions about America and the West in the Muslim world.

Asaad al-Saleh. The methodology of studying Facebook is kind of challenging. I don’t use the phrase Arab mind, I say Arab consciousness.

General Discussion.

[Name withheld]. The reference to Muslims and the Jews as one community apart from other people is a reference to their common monotheism. Even when they quarrel it is in the name of monotheism. Most often when the Quran says yahûd it means the Jews of Medina, and when it says Bani Isra’îl it usually means the historical Jews.

Al-Saleh. I am trying to see how the verse is being circulated without any context.

[Name withheld]. I think the methodology of analyzing Facebook is problematic.  Muslims make the same responses when a referee makes a decision they don’t like in soccer.

[Name withheld]. We also assume politics is part and parcel of Islam. Does Prophetic ministry require a political component?

Al-Saleh. It is not a metaphor, but it is taken out of context.

Brinton. People who argue religion should be part of civil society say it should be a voice not the voice.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad. How sophisticated do you expect a Facebook post to be? Shall we next agonize over the lack of depth and nuance in a Tweet?

Al-Saleh. I think we need to respond.

[Name withheld]. There is a long scholarly context of quoting verses out of context. This verse is a statement of historical fact being used as general statement.

[Name withheld]. Ridâ means more than agreement in Quran and Sufi literature. It can mean being content, pleased.

Asad al-Saleh. This is not the first time people have misused a text. I discuss the shades of meaning of rida. That’s what we need.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute






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