From Qabil’s Jealousy and Murder to Islamophobia

By Spahic Omer

One of the main lessons derived from Qabil’s (Cain’s) murder of his brother Habil (Abel) is that good things are accompanied by jealousy, which in turn could get out of hand and lead to the most painful consequences. Jealousy is a disease that can consume a person and can exercise control over his senses, yet over his entire being. Thus, an extremely jealous person is irrational and impulsive. He is dangerous.

Depending on the nature and extent of good things, jealousy, moreover, can be institutionalized and communalized, in which case reactions become mutual and coordinated. They are formalised, and may yet turn into independent institutions themselves. The reactions morph into conditions, then into patterns, and, at long last, begin to constitute the core of a national consciousness. And just as overly jealous individuals often turn into those who are unreasonable, reckless and dangerous, so do nations and their institutions, including governments.

Accordingly, if good things and blessings can be personal and national, jealousy can also be personal and national. The same applies to consequences. If jealousy can ruin personal relationships, it likewise can lead to largescale disputes and hostilities. The pinnacle of the circumstance and its irrepressible corollaries is what could be dubbed a civilizational jealousy.

The Qabil-versus-Habil episode (al-Ma’idah, 27-31) signified a mould in which individual as well as collective destinies are cast. Their performances denoted as much personal deeds as a collective awareness and standard. In their capacity as the biological children of the father of mankind, Qabil and Habil were not merely protagonists, but also existential standard-setters. Their responsibilities were multiple, representing and acting on behalf of the whole of humanity. In fact, they epitomized humanity in more ways than one, inasmuch as their actions significantly affected the trajectory and character of life on earth.

Jealousy and whatever might issue therefrom is suicidal. It cannot be an isolated act. Rather, it amounts to a premeditated process each and every aspect of which is carefully attended to. A person guilty of the jealousy aggregate and its course is fully responsible for the madness and its ensuing outcomes.

Hence, whereas the Qur’an describes the transgression of Prophet Adam as a mere slip caused by the endless guiles of Satan, the crime of Qabil, on the other hand, is presented as intentional and self-inflicted, whereby his selfish soul and corrupted mind overpowered his personality and prompted him to kill his brother. As a result, Adam is seen as blameless and genuinely sorry. Conversely, Qabil was brazen. Blameworthy, he was held fully responsible. He was blinded and restrained, and so, had neither guts nor discernment to repent honourably.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “No soul is wrongfully killed but that some responsibility for its blood is upon the first son of Adam, for he was the first to set the precedent of murder” (Bukhari and Muslim).

It is said in the book of 1 John in the New Testament that people (the Christians) should not be like Cain, “who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12).

Linguistically, the word “Cain” also became immortalized. It became synonymous with “a murderer”, while the word “raise Cain” means “to cause a commotion” and “to react angrily or protest aggressively, causing a big disturbance”. Some of the sister words are “to raise hell” and “to raise the devil”.

That is why murder is regarded as one of the greatest crimes and sins that can be committed on earth, due to which Almighty Allah decreed upon all humanity in general, and upon the Children of Israel in particular “that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption (done) in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely” (al-Ma’idah, 32). For obvious reasons, this Qur’anic verse comes immediately after the story of Qabil and Habil.

The Jews, Christians and Muslims

Some of the motives for which the Children of Israel have been thrust into the limelight revolve around the verities that at many critical junctures of history they occupied centre stage; that they were ruled generally by prophets, whenever a prophet died a new one was raised to succeed him; that they were notorious for regularly rebelling against Allah and His prophets; that they killed a great many prophets who tried to bring them back to the abandoned path of the truth and virtue; and that the office of prophethood was consequently taken away from them and was given to Muhammad who was unlettered and a “novice” and who represented the rank of “others” from the Arab race.

As far as the Christians are concerned, the confrontation between the elder Qabil and the younger Habil is evocative of the historical confrontations between the Jews and the Christians, with Prophet ‘Isa (Jesus) being the younger brother (Habil). The Jews plotted to kill ‘Isa – according to the New Testament narrative, they succeeded in doing so – and to exterminate the Christians.

To Muslims, however, both the Jews and the Christians treated Prophet Muhammad, the youngest brother of the Semitic family, in the same manner. Qabil was the type of the Old Testament and New Testament peoples, who sometimes separately and sometimes collectively resisted Muhammad and endeavoured to kill him, working tirelessly to try to extinguish his legacy and to put down his people (Abdullah Yusuf Ali, al-Maududi).

No sooner had Prophet Muhammad been sent as the final messenger and the seal of prophets, than the Jews and the Christians started to harbour, display and act upon jealousy. They were jealous that Allah had withdrawn His favours from them and had bestowed them on brother nation. They nevertheless forgot that it is Allah’s absolute prerogative to appoint whomsoever He wants as the bearer of His message, for He “knows best whom to appoint as His messenger” (al-An’am, 124). They also failed to realize that all prophets, just like all people, constitute one family without distinction between them (al-Baqarah, 285). Most importantly, the Jews and the Christians overlooked the fact that Allah had cancelled His favours upon them because of their violation of covenants with Him and their other persistent wrongdoings. Their responses to the sending of Muhammad was an attestation to this.

Indeed, the final prophethood of Muhammad was the greatest blessing for him and Muslims. The greatest jealousy, commensurate with the extent of the blessing, was inevitable. So much so that many Jews and Christians were blinded and incapacitated thereby. They knew that Muhammad was a true messenger of God and that he was telling nothing except the truth, but to swallow their pride and to follow him was too much to ask. The truth and irrepressible jealousy are irreconcilable. To jealousy and its members the truth and its own members – whoever they may be – are the enemy. Which inevitably rendered Prophet Muhammad and Muslims the nemesis, threatening not only the beliefs, values and narratives of history about those who had preceded them, but also their ways of life and the overall existential orders.   

Needless to say that such was the case on account of the Jews and the Christians revelling not in the truth, but in their own desires and interests. Muhammad and Islam, it follows, were not looked at, nor dealt with, against the background of the truth, but against the background of those narrow aspirations and interests. The truth was subjected to the implications of the latter.

Under such circumstances, normally, the sweetness of the truth becomes bitter, and the bitterness of jealousy and the falsehood that sustains it turns out to be sweet. One subsequently prefers to reside proudly and boastfully at the bottom of the heap than to climb the top unpretentiously and unassertively. In the world of jealousy different rules apply and different standards play out. The language spoken within that world is not the language outside it. The crime of a person who is the object of jealousy is that “he has”, and the entitlement-to-act of the one who is jealous is the fact that “he does not have”. Qabil and Habil talked to each other, but Qabil could not understand a word of what was said. They talked, but did not communicate. Qabil was impaired beyond healing.

The Qur’an underlines this principle by saying: “We know indeed the grief which their words cause you (O Muhammad); it is not you that they deny, but it is the verses of Allah that the wrongdoers reject” (al-An’am, 33).

In other words, there was nothing wrong with Muhammad; the problem was the special blessing and boon conferred upon him in the form of the final prophethood mission. The problem furthermore was not Muhammad as a human being, but Muhammad as the ultimate messenger of God. That is to say, by extension, people rejected God rather than Muhammad.

When Heraclius, the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, afforded Abu Sufyan – the leader of Makkah, who was yet to accept Islam and who was a sworn enemy of Prophet Muhammad – an opportunity to vilify and speak ill of Muhammad, he admitted that there was nothing he could say, even though at the time Muhammad lived as a prophet more than twenty years. Abu Sufyan said that the “only negative” thing he could say was that there was a truce between Muhammad and Makkah and he was not sure what Muhammad will do next.

A dialogue between Heraclius and Abu Sufyan was long and complex, almost philosophical. Heraclius asked Abu Sufyan – among other things: “Does he (Muhammad) break his promises?” Abu Sufyan replied: “No. We are at truce with him but we do not know what he will do in it.” Abu Sufyan later added: “I could not find the opportunity to say anything against him (Muhammad) except that” (Bukhari).

Similarly, Prophet Musa (Moses) declared to Pharaoh as part of a hard-hitting conversation between the two: “You have already known that none has sent down these (signs) except the Lord of the heavens and the earth as evidence, and indeed I think, O Pharaoh, that you are destroyed” (al-Isra’, 102).

If the truth was compellingly obvious, both at the level of theory and the level of it being practiced in the lives of its devotees, the only thing that could keep people reject the truth and subscribe to its antitheses was jealousy subtly woven with arrogance and self-regard. In the process, all rationality, discretion and splendour lost sense and absurdity commenced to reign supreme. There was then little authentically positive to hope and work for.

All Habil’s efforts to bring Qabil to his senses fell flat, and the tragedy became unavoidable. However, what is worrisome is that after the tragedy Qabil still failed to realize what was actually going on and what was happening to him. He did not get a hold on himself. Jealousy – and all the other supportive lesser disorders – was not recognized, nor accepted, as the root cause. It therefore was left unchecked and self-sufficient. Qabil never established that he was wrong and his brother right.

Accordingly, the Qur’an reveals that the jealousy is the main culprit for the disbelief of many Jews and Christians. Qabil was their inspiration and role model: “Many of the followers of the Book wish that they could turn you back into unbelievers after your faith, out of jealousy (envy) from themselves, (even) after the truth has become manifest to them; but pardon and forgive, so that Allah should bring about His command; surely Allah has power over all things” (al-Baqarah, 109).

In consequence, the Qur’an points out: “You will surely hear from those who were given the Scripture before you (the Jews and the Christians) and from those who associate others with Allah much abuse” (Alu ‘Imran, 186).

Also: “And they will continue to fight you until they turn you back from your religion if they are able” (al-Baqarah, 217).

“And never will the Jews or the Christians approve of you until you follow their religion. Say: ‘Indeed, the guidance of Allah is the (only) guidance.’ If you were to follow their desires after what has come to you of knowledge, you would have against Allah no protector or helper” (al-Baqarah, 120).

The case of Islamophobia

This somewhat predetermined behaviour of the Jews and the Christians – and their international partners – was a chief reason for the creation of the scourge of Islamophobia, which, in equal measure, feeds on inanities, prejudice and fabrications. Regardless of how much people tried, however, Islamophobia will never be justifiable, nor empirically demonstrable. Its instance is that of undue jealousy and murder.

It is no wonder that in the realm of Islamophobia, too, diverse forms of jealousy preponderate over other factors. Many people cannot accept that while the rest of the religions, ideologies and systems of life are either tumbling or are continuously being reviewed and “upgraded”, Islam is the only religion “standing”, with its systems increasingly called upon as the only potential saviour of the beleaguered world. In addition, despite the fact that basically everything is succumbing to the destructive pulling power of the “black-holes” of modernity and post-modernity, Islam keeps standing tall, ever more generating a civilizational centre of gravity of its own accord. And finally, although everything is shrinking, Islam keeps growing; although everything recoils from the aggressive, albeit most of the time phoney, advances of present-day scientism, materialism, secularism and atheism, Islam persists and even tries to embark on the offensive and offer alternatives. In the age when sanity is more threatened than any endangered species, Islam and Muslims live on as the only normal entities.

As such, Islam and its people are seen as potential threats, theoretically and practically, to the prevalent world order(s). They are perceived as inhibitions and dangers, and hence, need to be tackled accordingly at all levels of their religious, cultural and civilizational presence. A deep sense of fear had to be instilled, so that people would become more gullible and more receptive of the dished up allegations. However, the more Islam and Muslims persevered, the more extreme measures were resorted to on the other end of the spectrum.

The options were decreasing conspicuously, making conflicts and aggression all the more viable, comparatively effective and trusted preferences. It is feared that sheer antagonism and hostilities may one day become the only option, reverberating the dramatic finale of the Qabil and Habil incident. The recent hoax of the democratization of the Muslim world, especially the Middle East, and that of the “war on terror” are steps in this (wrong) direction.

If one reads and contemplates the story of Qabil and Habil thoroughly, one can easily distinguish the essence of the history of man, human society and civilization-building processes. He can also sense the quintessence of the nature of Prophet Muhammad’s mission and the nature of its relations with other members of the humanity family. It is by no means a far-fetched proposition to say that even the spirit of what is called nowadays Islamophobia is featured in the said story. Since Islam is the only religion before Allah, and since every prophet throughout history was sent to his people to convey the monotheistic message of Islam, there were constantly profiles and degrees of Islamophobia as well.

Every age contains its army of Qabils whose main goal is to destroy and kill persons, ideals, hopes and even entire societies. The perennially primary source of those people’s ostensible legitimacy is to hide and manipulate the heavenly command given in conjunction with the Qabil-versus-Habil account, wherein any form of murder is condemned in the most unequivocal terms.

Preserving life is about respecting and upholding humanness. It is about human nature as it should be, human dignity and honour. Valuing and preserving life ought to be colour, status, nationality and class-blind. Taking anybody’s life is the supreme act of dehumanization and debasement. It is the greatest evil. This same command pertaining to the preservation of life is given both to Muslims and the People of the Book (the Jews and the Christians). The question remains as to why the command is non-existent in the Bible, who removed (concealed) it and why.

Certainly, it was the spirit and hands of the Qabils in a particular time and context that did it. Without the command, the Qabils enabled themselves to manipulate, relativize, desacralize, devaluate and politicize the matter, making it subservient to their ideological and socio-political constructs. Because of the hidden hands – and agendas – of the Qabils, everyone speaks about the inviolability of human life and how taking it is the cruellest and most merciless act. However, not many expand the topic to encompass mankind entirely. Therefore, double standards in the ambits of justice and benevolence are rampant. For the most part, only certain lives matter, while others are less important and even completely irrelevant, simply because they belong to different religious, cultural, or socio-economic groups. To unjustly kill yet sometimes becomes an act of religious, along with national, loyalty and devotion.   

The Qur’an thus says, exposing the Jews and Christians: “Because of that (Qabil’s murder of Habil), We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption (done) in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, (even) after that, throughout the land, were transgressors” (al-Ma’idah, 32). ***

(Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer is an academic in Department of History and Civilisation, AbdulHamid AbuSulayman Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences. The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of IIUMToday.)

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