An Analysis of The Second Message of Islam: Part Two

Kellen Peck — March 21, 2018

In his book, The Second Message of Islam, Mahmoud Mohammed Taha reconciled the seemingly contradictory Meccan and Medinan passages of the Quran by claiming that many aspects of present Islamic Sharia were not originally present, but instead necessitated by the limitation of human ability in the Prophet’s day. This is the seminal truth outlined in The Second Message of Islam. After a brief historical background and an overview of Taha’s controversial doctrines outlined in Part One, we will now examine the nature of Taha’s theology and the efficacy of the movement he began.

Taha’s understanding of religion, even of Islam, is thoroughly evolutionary. He notes, “Evolutionary logic is central in the formulation of the second message theory that conceives human history in terms of a progressive, spiral, upward movement from simplicity to complexity, from ‘lower’ civilizational rungs to ‘higher’ ones, from social conflict to social harmony.”[1] Taha’s language is also imbibed with progressivism: “Islam, too, can never be concludedProgress in it is eternal: ‘Surely, the [true] religion with God is Islam’(3:19).”[2]

Taha’s vision for the “good society” is also unabashedly communist. He argues that humanity has evolved during the fourteen centuries since the First Message, and is now intellectually capable of implementing socialism; therefore, Islam must be propagated toward that end.[3] According to Taha’s ideology, “When such absolute equality is achieved through the grace of God, and as a result of abundant production, we shall achieve communism or a sharing of the earth’s wealth by all people.”[4]

It is notable that Taha’s “Second Message” merged with the 19th and 20th century zeitgeist—the ideologies of Evolution, Progressivism and Communism—in the same way that Islam’s “First Message” merged with the societal values and ideologies of the time, including the institution of slavery and the subjugation of women. Taha imposes modern philosophies upon a 7th century message, and fails to see that, just as Islam’s first audience was inevitably shaped by its culture, so he is by his culture. The “universal Islam” he would have us understand is an Islam built on 20th century utopian ideals.

Undoubtedly, however, Taha’s exegetical approach has appeal. While many left-leaning Islamists herald Mahmoud Taha for championing such movements as women’s equality, his textual approach has an intellectual honesty which is lacking in many scholars and statesman who flatly call Islam a religion of peace without confronting those texts which are in no way peaceful.[5] By contrast, Taha provides a way to reconcile the Qur’an’s contradictory texts in a way which better explains the Meccan texts than does the traditional doctrine of abrogation which states that the later revelation simply abrogates the former. Under the traditional doctrine of abrogation, the Meccan texts appear to be useless, as after only thirteen years they are abrogated in favor of later texts, but Taha’s theories explain the purpose behind the Meccan texts, and state that they will eventually be revived and implemented. To be clear, Taha does not deny the traditional doctrine of abrogation; he only denies its permanence. He claims that the Meccan texts were indeed abrogated for a time, but that the Prophet Muhammad intended for later believers to reverse this abrogation and implement the former precepts of Islam.[6] In this sense, his methodology is superior to the traditional doctrine of abrogation, because it offers a purpose for the Meccan precepts in the first place.

Instead of disregarding certain texts in the Qur’an or trying to explain a tenuous interpretation, Taha both affirms the legitimacy and rejects the many violent and unjust Qur’anic texts. In this sense, he merges two ideals: the ideal of fundamentalist, text-based Islam, and the ideal of the human rights of the modern era. Contemporary Muslim scholar Abdullahi An-Na’im notes that, if embraced, Taha’s methodology would achieve reconciliation between the liberal and fundamentalist groups, which is what he calls “the crisis of Islamic Law Reform,” as “Muslims would be able to live under a constitutional and legal system derived from the permanent and fundamental principles of Islam without violating the constitutional and human rights of non-Muslims.”[7]

It is unclear how Taha’s utopian Islamic vision can be achieved. On the one hand, much seems left to the progress that mankind has already realized, since Taha considered his present day ripe to receive the Second Message of Islam. However, his writing also carries an expectation of personal reform through discipline and prayer. He states that true Islam “cannot be achieved in the future except through hard work, discipline, education, correction, and change of what is almost natural human behavior. It will represent the peak of civilization, when man moves away from his base animal drives and develops a superior moral character.”[8] But can man actually move away from his “base animal drives” to a “superior moral character” through hard work, discipline, and the like? Can he change his very nature?

Taha explains that the Qur’an’s approach to “ridding the self of sin” must proceed from the outside to the inside.[9] This process of purification begins with the believer carefully observing, and holding himself accountable for, his most blatant sinful actions. While he addresses these sins, he continues in sinful speech, in accordance with the gradual sanctification process. When he is eventually able to purify his actions, he can then purify his speech, while tolerating his faults of thought, until he has achieved a superior moral nature.[10]

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