Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 177-182 Creates Two Ways of Keeping Wills Honest

The First Half

What a wonderful opening verse! At a basic level it seems to speak of what piety is. Is piety related to which direction you face (presumably for prayer), which is to say a religious matter? No. Piety is about those few fundamentally important beliefs (God, Last Day, etc.) and in being a charitable person who helps others. Piety and social responsibility, then, are rather related – a wonderful message. Interestingly, though, this discussion turns into one about wills, inheritance and retribution.

What is meant by “recompense (for blood) paid with a grace?” This seems related to the retribution for the murdered, but I’m wondering if we’re talking about the same dead person. Is it saying that God gives grace (i.e. brings to Heaven) whosoever is murdered? Obviously it couldn’t be anyone who gets that privilege, but some who may have made amends, surely. Perhaps that’s why it is seen as a concession by God, because the idea is that the murdered man may not have been worthy of Heaven at that moment but could have become so given time. I feel like I’m stretching to make this verse work when I simply don’t understand what it’s saying.

The Second Half

At first I was very confused about verses 180-182, but by the end I think I got it. I kept asking myself, Why does one need to give away his stuff at the end of his life rather than after his death, but 182 makes it quite clear why: because people have been known to change wills. What’s interesting is how the Quran recognizes this societal problem (there would not be laws about it if it were not a problem) and takes a two-pronged approach to solving it.

On the one hand, there is a practical, on the ground approach, and on the other, a celestial approach. First, the solution is that people nearing death will bequeath their goods before they die, thereby ensuring that the people who are supposed to have them do indeed have them. Thus, there can be no mistaking that the will was not altered. Second, the Quran makes this more than a mundane matter and tells us that anyone who does mess with wills will be divinely punished, and it even encourages those who suspect will-tamperers to come forward by ensuring that such people will not be punished, either by God or, I assume, other people (at least the Godly injunction would seem to prevent such thing).

I must say that I find this to be very clever. It is by no means a unique way of doing things. The Torah is all over this dual method of ensuring that problems are solved with a heavenly and an earthly solution, as well as other societies in which religion and penal codes are one and the same, but this is very well done. Identify a problem: will-tampering. Propose a solution: give away stuff before death. Reinforce divinely: God punishes those who break this law. Bravo!

Do you have anything to add to my assessment or would you like to point out anything that I’ve missed? What do you think of these verses?

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The Cow 177 – 182

177. Piety does not lie in turning your face to East or West: Piety lies in believing in God, the Last Day and the angels, the Scriptures and the prophets, and disbursing your wealth out of love for God among your kin and the orphans, the wayfarers and mendicants, freeing the slaves, observing your devotional obligations, and in paying the zakat and fulfilling a pledge you have given, and being patient in hardship, adversity, and times of peril. These are the men who affirm the truth, and they are those who follow the straight path. 178. O believers, ordained for you is retribution for the murdered, (whether) a free man, or a slave of a slave, or a woman of a woman. But he who is pardoned some of it by his brother should be dealt with equity, and recompense (for blood) paid with a grace. This is a concession from your Lord and a kindness. He who trangresses in spite of it shall suffer painful punishment. 179. In retribution there is life (and preservation). O men of sense, you may haply take heed for yourselves. 180. It is ordained that when any one of you nears death, and he owns good and chattels, he should bequeath them equitably to his parents and next of kin. This is binding on those who are upright and fear God. 181. And any one who changes the will, having heard it, shall be guilty and accountable; for God hears all and knows everything. 182. He who suspects wrong or partiality on the part of the testator and brings about a settlement, does not incur any guilt, for God is verily forgiving and merciful.

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3 Responses

  1. Fiqh–As mentioned, there are two areas –Laws between Man and God and Laws between Man and Man. However, in all transactions between Man and Man, God is a witness —these can be personal transactions (such as wills/trusts or marriage) or business/financial transactions, or treaties between tribes/nations.

    “Qisas”–The Law of equality (verse 178). The interpretation of this in Islamic jurisprudence is interesting. They interpret that the law of equality provides the option of capital punishment (of the murderer) to the family of the victims. However, this is not for some judge to decide—but the victims family must decide if they want this option–or if they want monetary compensation instead, or if they want the option to forgive.
    The social situation of the time is also interesting. As mentioned, the arabs followed a “code”. In their code, honor was very important and this resulted in one murder compounded by multiple “revenge” murders that were carried on for generations between tribes. The situation was especially bad in Yathrib(Medina)—and the tribes there turned to Prophet Muhammed(pbuh) for arbitration. (the fires of hate can be cooled by the application of justice. Hate leads people away from the spiritual path.)

    The Medina verses do address actual issues/problems faced by the “new” muslim community.

  2. Sorry mistake—fiqh (jurisprudence) would not include the area of law concerned with Man and God.

  3. Ah! That actually makes a lot more sense, knowing that these are actual laws that I simply wasn’t following. Thanks so much for clarifying what they are.

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