Quran Day: The Cow 8-20 Condemns the Deceiver – But By God, Not By Man

If you were here last week, I noted my appreciation for the Quran’s understanding that one had to be true to himself and not try to be someone he is not by deceiving others about his beliefs (pardon my consistently masculine pronouns – I think my material reflects this style though). With this, I can’t help but agree. What I find particularly significant about this passage, however, is that not once does it exhort believers (which is to say Muslims) to act against the deceivers.

Now, I haven’t read the rest of the Quran yet (though I am working my way forward) and it’s quite possible that Muslims are told to take action against such people (i.e. the deceivers who think themselves reformers and are surely mischief-mongers), but for now, that is not so.

Who will deal with the deceivers? God will. Whatever they deserve – remaining without answers about life, in darkness and in trouble, so it is written – God will bring it upon them. This, I like, and I think it’s worth remembering. At least at this stage in the Quran punishment is God’s game, not man’s (and I will stand corrected and welcome the pointing out of verses which render my supposition null and void if you’re familiar with any).

Is this to say that we should let murderers and rapists run around free because God will deal with it? No. This passage speaks of people who lie about their theological beliefs, something that men should only have to take up with one source: God. What I take away from this, then, is that we should do our best not to be affected by deceivers (if we are believers) but that they are God’s problem and He will deal with them justly.

I can’t say that this has been followed historically by a lot of people – whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or otherwise – but I do like reading it here in the Quran. People’s theological beliefs are their own business and they only have to answer to God.

Can you add to our understanding of this passage? What do you think about when you read these verses?

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Read more Quran Read-A-Long.

Administrative: Per the suggestion of a most learned reader, we will proceed week by week by reading the marked sections, rather than attempt to force the Quran to make sense in 10 line sections. Next week we will read The Cow 21-29. The Cow 8-20 is below.

Here’s what Hilla had to say:

Jay, I think you make an interesting point about leaving it to God to decide who is and is not a believer. I think this point is further demonstrated by the fact that this surah was revealed in Medina, after Muhammad’s hijra (pilgrimage) from Mecca. When Muhammad and his followers first arrived in Medina, there were Jews and Pagans, who challenged the status of the Muslims (the Believers). When reading these verses, one must keep in mind that Allah revealed them to Muhammad within a specific context. It was a different time then. Islam was relatively new to the scene. When reading these verses today, it can leave one to wonder whether they are still applicable and if so how. Are these verses part of an instance that happened a long time ago or do they transcend time? If the latter is true, then why do extremists (of all religions) insist on how to define who is and who is not a Believer?

(8.) And there are some who, though they say: “We believe in God and the Last Day,” (in reality) do not believe. (9) They (try to) deceive God and those who believe, yet deceive none but themselves although they do not know. (10) Sick are their hearts, and God adds to their malady. For them is suffering for they lie. (11) When asked to desist form spreading corruption in the land they say: “Why, we are reformers.” (12) Yet they are surely mischief-mongers, even though they do not know. (13) When asked to believe as others do, they say: “Should we believe like fools?” And yet they are the fools, even though they do not know. (14) When they meet the faithful they say: “We believe;” but when alone with the devils (their fellows), they say: “We are really with you; we were joking.” (15) But God will turn the joke against them and allow them to sink deeper into evil and wander perplexed in their wickedness. (16) They are indeed those who bartered away good guidance for error and gained nothing from the deal, nor found the right way. (17) They are like a man who kindles a fire, and when its glow has illumined the air God takes away their light leaving them in the dark where they will not be able to see. (18.) They are deaf, dumb and blind, and shall never return; (19) Or like rain pouring from the sky which hides within its darkness, thunder and lightning. They thrust their fingers into their ears for safety against noise and death. But God surrounds those who believe not from all sides. (20) Verily the lightning could snatch away their eyes. When it flashes forth they walk in its flare. When darkness returns they stand still. And if the Lord wills so He could take away their hearing and sight; surely God is all powerful.

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10 Responses

  1. nice article.

  2. OK, first, the main theme of verses 1-29 are to point out that there are three classes of men (and women): believers, unbelievers, and hypocrites, as Muslims call them (as opposed to “deceivers”). Verses 8-20 refer to the hypocrites.

    People’s theological beliefs are their own business and they only have to answer to God.

    This is only partially correct. In Islam, there are two types of responsibilities, fardhu ‘ain, which is the knowledge and responsibilities incumbent upon each individual, and fardhu kifayah, which is the knowledge and responsibilities incumbent upon the community as a whole. “Nations” (the word many Qur’anic translators use) are just as responsible for the conduct of the community as are individuals, and the Qur’an has various examples whereby entire “nations” were wiped out for their transgressions (e.g., the Ad, the Thamud, Sodom and Gomorrah) or not (e.g., Nineveh). We are all responsible to Allah (swt), and all of us will answer to Him on the Day of Judgment but, likewise, you might also say that we are our brother’s keeper as well.

    I think you make an interesting point about leaving it to God to decide who is and is not a believer.

    In this respect you are right; it is for Allah (swt) to decide who is and isn’t a believer; see my posts, Why Muslims Don’t Pronounce “Takfir” and The 9/11 Terrorists and Shirk.

    When reading these verses today, it can leave one to wonder whether they are still applicable and if so how. Are these verses part of an instance that happened a long time ago or do they transcend time?

    Generally speaking, the vast majority of Qur’anic verses have both a specific and general application. The Qur’an is for all mankind, for all time. However, there are some verses that are time-specific, which “expired,” so to speak, and are often misinterpreted by extremists of both sides (both Muslim extremists and Islamophobes) as still being applicable today, when they are not. And this is where understanding the context of when, how and in what situation the verses were revealed becomes so important.

    If the latter is true, then why do extremists (of all religions) insist on how to define who is and who is not a Believer?

    As I tried to point out above, to define who is and isn’t a believer is strongly discouraged in Islam, and those Muslims who do this are often not well educated in their religion. Several years ago, a document called The Amman Message was drafted and signed by numerous Muslim scholars worldwide that helps to define who is a Muslim and who isn’t, which schools of Islamic jurisprudence are legitimate and which are not, and who is capable of writing a legitimate fatwa (religious opinion) and who isn’t.

  3. Having read the posts your recommended, I must say that your response about the 9-11 issue is fascinating. Quite frankly, I think one would be hard pressed to find people that don’t hope that other people are in Hell (or Heaven for that matter), and I think that 9/11 is an excellent case in point. While some people are sure in their heart of hearts that the perpetrators are burning in Hell, others are obviously convinced that they are enjoying the rewards of Heaven as we speak.

    For me, this has wider implications – implications that your post touched on when you said that we shouldn’t even try to judge who is in or out of Islam. That is to say that we shouldn’t enforce our truth claims because everyone has them, and in the end only God can judge.

    All religious people, whether Muslim, Christian or otherwise, claim that their truth – their interpretation of holy scripture, following of ritual and dogmatic beliefs – are the only ways to reach Heaven and all others will burn in Hell. But as we all know, everyone, including people with opposing claims, makes these assertions, leaving us to conclude by the role of the dice who is right or that all are wrong.

    This is where I like what you’ve said and this notion of shirk and driven at in the final paragraph of your comment here, which implies that we may all have our beliefs, practice our religions to the best of our abilities, but understand that in the end, only God decides who was right and was wrong. To behave in a manner contrary to this acceptance of God’s judgment is to slight God, and in Islam, it seems, you have conveyed that this is unacceptable behavior.

    I think that everyone should realize the futility and wretchedness of condemning anyone to Hell or presupposing that anyone would go to Hell (although, to be honest, I do mean this more in the day to day, live and let live sense rather than the 9-11 sense) and if you can’t remember that we’re all in the same religious guessing game boat then at least humble yourself to your God and don’t pretend to have his powers of judgment.

    Thank you again for your illuminating comments, JDsg.

    I recommend to everyone that they take a look at the posts he put up for us – they add substance to these issues.

  4. These are two ahadith qudsi, a special class of hadith that are not part of the Qur’an, but are considered to be almost as authoritative.

    Narrated Abu Huraira: I heard Allah’s Messenger [Muhammad (pbuh)] saying: There were two fraternal persons among the Children of Israel. One of them was engrossed in committing sins while the other was devoted to worship. The devotee used to see his fellow committing sin and advised him: Desist from doing so. One day when he found his fellow committing sin, he said to him: Avoid it. His fellow said: Leave me alone. The devotee said: By Allah, He will neither forgive you nor admit you to Paradise. When they died, they were gathered before the Lord of the worlds. Allah asked the devotee: Were you assured of knowing Me or were you having power over what was in My Hands? Then He said to the sinner: Go and enter Paradise by My Mercy; and ordered the angels about the devotee: Lead him to Hell.

    After narrating the Hadith, Abu Huraira commented: By Him in Whose Hand my soul is: One word spoken by the devotee ruined his good deeds in the world as well as in the Hereafter.

    Narrated Jundub that Allah’s Messenger stated that a person said: By Allah! Allah will not forgive so-and-so (person). Thereupon Allah, the Exalted, remarked: Who is he who swears by Me (and says) that I will not forgive so-and-so? Verily I have forgiven so-and-so and nullified your deeds, or as the Messenger said.

  5. All religious people, whether Muslim, Christian or otherwise, claim that their truth – their interpretation of holy scripture, following of ritual and dogmatic beliefs – are the only ways to reach Heaven and all others will burn in Hell.

    Actually, this isn’t taught in Islam. There are a number of verses in the Qur’an that state otherwise; for example:

    Those who believe (in the Qur’an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. (2:62)

  6. Yes, I have that verse marked in my Quran because it emphasized precisely what your are saying and a point I found to be wonderful – but unfortunately, as we know, many people do not follow the precise words set out by their prophets or holy texts. That is why I think the Quran calls Christians “Nazareans,” in order to emphasize the difference between the Christians of the seventh century and those who were the immediate followers of Jesus. The belief systems and practices of the two were so different that it was amazing and this is an important distinction recognized in the Quran.

    That said, though in the Quran it says that certain people will go to Heaven, many in Islam (which is certainly not to say all and to note that this criticism extends to all self-righteous religious people) still claim that their truth is the ultimate truth and the only way to paradise. You point out the existence of these people in your post “Why Muslims Don’t Pronounce Takfir” and your inclusion of the Amman Message. Jews do the same to fellow Jews and non-Jews and Christians the same to other Christians and non-Christians.

    It may not be written that this is so – that Muslims think Jews and Christians are going to Hell – but that doesn’t stop people from distorting the original intentions of their prophets and holy books and claiming that it will happen, whether collectively or on a case by case basis.

    Also, I absolutely loved the ahadith qudsi you included. Wonderful illustrations of this topic. Though I don’t like to think of God sitting around condemning and judging, etc., I do wish that more people thought about stories like that before they went around condemning others and doing what only God should have the right to do.

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  10. Hi everyone!
    It’s true that we cannot say that someone will go to hell. In fact, we have to worry about ourselves. But the Quran states that those who receive the message and do not believe will end up in hell. But now people should question: Why must we believe in it?
    The Quran says that God made a covenant with(our souls) us before our coming to this world and we testified that He is our God. So the ideia is that the Quran is a reminder of something we already know deep in our souls. If we are truthful to our nature(fitrah) and gratiful to God then we will believe and follow it. If we are not we will reject, even if we receive clear signs.
    So, this is my understanding.

    Thank you!

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