Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 189-196 Speaks of Fighting, Aggression and Oppression

At first blush these verses seem to be a combination of injunctions for life about violence, aggression and fighting and at the same time about the specifics of Mohammed’s return to Mecca with his followers. For instance, verse 190 – and I like the emphasis placed here on not being aggressors or even aggressive – seems to be a rule to follow for life. However, verse 191 – which discusses returning to the place from which you were expelled and making sure not to fight near the Holy Mosque – seems more specific to the conquest of Mecca.

I feel like 194 is a dangerous verse to give people, because it effectively authorizes oppression in the name of God and piety, saying that it is allowed against those who oppress you to the same degree. Human nature is such, however, that people who oppress are often unable to discontinue doing so, even if the appropriate level of oppression authorized has been met. Oppression requires dehumanization and once dehumanized, oppression proceeds unhindered. Plus, why say in verse 191 that oppression is worse than killing if only a few verses later oppression, to whatever degree, is going to be allowed. It seems unreasonable, counterproductive, and plain not good. Unless of course the entire thing is a ruse to see whether people will abide by the earlier words and never oppress, knowing that it is wrong.

I was unaware of the ritual of shaving one’s head in Islam. What is the purpose of doing so and what does it mean to do so? Any help clarifying this would help. It seems here to be related to sending a sacrifice instead of visiting a holy place, but what is it directly related to? Is this related to hajj?

What else can you tell us about these verses? Can you answer any of my questions, enlighten us generally on the verses or simply add anything? Thanks!

Get a FREE Bonus Chapter from The Zen of South Park.

Read More Quran Read-A-Long.

The Cow 189-196

189. They ask you of the new moons. Say: “These are periods set for men (to reckon) time, and for pilgrimage.” Piety does not lie in entering the house through the back door, for the pious man is he who follows the straight path. Enter the house through the main gate, and obey God. You may haply find success. 190. Fight those in the way of God who fight you, but do not be aggressive: God does not like aggressors. 191. And fight those (who fight you) wheresoever you find them, and expel them from the place they had turned you out from. Oppression is worse than killing. Do not fight them by the Holy Mosque unless they fight you there. If they do, then slay them: Such is the requital for unbelievers. 192. But if they desist, God is forgiving and kind. 193. FIght them till sedition comes to end, and the law of God (prevails). If they desist, then cease to be hostile, except against those who oppress. 194. (Fighting during) the holy month (if the sanctity) of the holy month (is violated) is (just) retribution. So if you are oppressed, oppress those who opress you to the same degree, and fear God, and know that God is with those who are pious and follow the right path. 195. Spend in the way of God and do not seek destruction at your own hands. So do good; for God loves those who do good. 196. Perform the pilgrimage and holy visit (‘Umra, to Makkah) in the service of God. But if you are prevented, send an offering which you can afford as sacrifice, and do not shave your heads until the offering has reached the place of sacrifice. But if you are sick or have ailment of the scalp (preventing the shaving of hair), then offer expiation by fasting or else giving alms or a sacrificial offering. When you have security, then those of you who wish to perform the holy visit along with the pilgrimage, should make a sacrifice according to their means. But he who has nothing, should fast for three days furing the pilgrimage and seven on return, completing ten. This applies to him whose family does not live near the Holy Mosque. Have fear of God and remember that God is severe in punishment.

Advertisements

8 Responses

  1. However, verse 191 – which discusses returning to the place from which you were expelled and making sure not to fight near the Holy Mosque – seems more specific to the conquest of Mecca.

    Like (virtually) all verses in the Qur’an there is both a specific meaning and a general meaning. While 2:191 may have initially referred to the conquest of Makkah, the verse was needed on a practical basis not so long ago.

    I feel like 194 is a dangerous verse to give people, because it effectively authorizes oppression in the name of God and piety, saying that it is allowed against those who oppress you to the same degree.

    I disagree. It follows the Islamic law of equality. Let me provide an example. I was watching this scene from Star Trek: The Next Generation (“Allegiance”). After having been imprisoned for a number of hours by aliens in an experiment, Picard is able to have the aliens captured in a force field so that they themselves can understand what it feels like to be a captive. After a very short time (less than a minute), Picard releases the aliens and they leave the Enterprise. The Islamic law of equality would say that Picard had the right to detain the aliens as long as they had detained him, although no longer.

    Note also in 2:194 that the oppression only happens after the party has been injured. This is probably the main reason why the US failed to win Arab/Muslim support for the 2003 Iraq war. In the first Gulf War, the Arab/Muslim world recognized that Iraq had been the oppressors of Kuwait; thus they were willing to join in the alliance against Saddam Hussein. In 2003, the Arab/Muslim world saw the US as being aggressors so no support was forthcoming.

    Human nature is such, however, that people who oppress are often unable to discontinue doing so, even if the appropriate level of oppression authorized has been met. Oppression requires dehumanization and once dehumanized, oppression proceeds unhindered.

    Which is why the Qur’an repeatedly stresses the need to refrain from escalation whenever possible. The Qur’an tries to help mankind rise above its human nature.

    Plus, why say in verse 191 that oppression is worse than killing if only a few verses later oppression, to whatever degree, is going to be allowed.

    I think you misunderstand the verse. Oppression is a worse fate than death, not to the oppressor but to the oppressed. Thus, “oppression” is allowed to the injured party after they themselves have already undergone oppression by the injuring party, the aggressors.

    It seems unreasonable, counterproductive, and plain not good. Unless of course the entire thing is a ruse to see whether people will abide by the earlier words and never oppress, knowing that it is wrong.

    Nooo.

    I was unaware of the ritual of shaving one’s head in Islam. What is the purpose of doing so and what does it mean to do so? Any help clarifying this would help. It seems here to be related to sending a sacrifice instead of visiting a holy place, but what is it directly related to? Is this related to hajj?

    Yes, a man who completes either the hajj or the umrah has his head shaved bald; a woman has a small lock of her hair clipped off. (Also see this video beginning at the 0:31 mark.) There’s also the historical precedent set by Muhammad (pbuh):

    When the peace treaty was written down, Allah’s Messenger (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) said to his companions: “Get up and slaughter your sacrifices and have you heads shaved.” One of the Companions of Allah’s Messenger (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) relates: ‘By Allah none of them got up, and the Prophet (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) repeated his order thrice. When none of them got up, he left them and went to Umm Salamah (radhi allahu anha) (the Prophet’s wife) and told her of the people’s attitude towards him. Umm Salamah said: ‘O Prophet of Allah! Do you want your order to be carried out? Go out and don’t say a word to anybody until you have slaughtered your sacrifice and call your barber to shave your head.’ The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam) did as Umm Salamah suggested. Seeing the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihe wa-sallam), the Companions got up, slaughtered their sacrifices and started shaving the heads of one another. There was so much of a rush and sadness that there was a danger of killing each other…”
    (Source)

    The offering of the sacrifice is for those people who were unable to complete either their hajj or their umrah.

  2. JD did a great job.
    The Quran says that when reading its verses—one must understand them as a whole—one concept builds on another. If one is still unable to understand, then one should interpret the best meaning.

    Law of equality—the punishment must fit the crime—that is–it should not be excessive.

    Verse 194—holy month is a reference to the months when fighting in the area of the Kaba is prohibited (by Quran) but if someone initiates a battle –then muslims are permitted to fight in self defense.
    My translation of verse 194 —-“The prohibited month–for the prohibited month, and for all things prohibited-there is a law of equality. If then anyone transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress you likewise against him. But fear God and know that God is with those who restrain themselves.”

    In all translations—the bias/perspective of the translators comes through—which is why translations are also considered “tafsir” or explanations of the Quran. Fortunately, there are many english translations.

    Symbolism—The hajj pilgrimage is all about symbolism. Some muslims feel that the shaving of the head symbolizes a sort of “re-birth”(–when hajj is completed). Verse 196 refers to rules when pilgrimage is not completed or interrupted……

    If anything brings home to us that we are all God’s creation, it is the Hajj. People of all colors, shapes, and cultures come together to pray to the one God. Those who have done it say it is a humbling experience. The Quran talks of “unity within diversity” and in the hajj we get to experience it.

    Why all the ritual?–The Quran says (somewhere) that God has no needs or wants —thus, what humans do or do not do, does not effect the existence of God. All of this that we are asked/guided to do in the Quran is not for the sake of God but for the sake of our soul/nafs spiritual growth. The more we progress on our spiritual journey, the more we understand our purpose on earth, we are more capable of making right choices.

  3. I truly do appreciate the argument behind the importance of a sense of perfect justice that one would have the right to detain another for the exact amount of time that he was detained, but I just can’t believe that human nature – despite the ways in which a thoughtful religion like Islam is designed to restrain it – would allow things to play out in such a fashion. True, some people have the self-control, sense of justice and ability to let people go after being oppressed themselves by those they now oppress, but I would argue that most people (particularly those who have been through the hell of imprisonment) do not. Much of what is happening in many religions is an attempt to control some of our baser instincts (like the very animalistic and chimpanzee-like inclination to inflict increasingly high levels of revenge on out-group members) but even calculated attempts at instilling justice like this law are often overruled by human nature.

    It’s interesting that you bring up the Iraq War. I would like to use recent US wars in the Muslim world as an example of how we are inclined to inflict more “punishment” than justice mandates.

    9-11 killed about 3000 people and was perceived by the U.S. as the most horrible attack on the US ever because of the way in which it happened (surprise, multiple people at once, etc.). Setting aside whatever is actually justified and necessary in the international arena when something like that occurs, the US is still engaged in a 7+ year war in Afghanistan, one nearly as long in Iraq (and for similar reasons that didn’t even exist for that country) – one that has cost hundreds of billions of dollars, thousands more US lives, a loss of international respect and prestige and nearly NONE of the outcomes desired or demanded. Why? Because men responded with their animalistic instincts rather than reason.

    Reason would have told them that drunk driving (or any number of other things) causes tens of thousands more deaths a year in the US and that billions of dollars and countless man-hours would be better spent trying to put an end to that (or those) problem(s) – as far as Return on Investment and reason are concerned. However, reason (like this law in the Quran) was not used (despite a similar eye-for-an-eye justice law in Christianity that Bush and his team should have been well aware of) and instead an unfit punishment (as for as equality and justice) was meted out on two countries, countless people, and the US still doesn’t have the only justice that it might deserve (Osama bin Laden). So again, I respect the notion thoroughly – I just think it will generally go unheaded and so that’s why it’s dangerous to authorize anything. However, as a demonstration of the Quran’s refined notion of equality, this verse is iimportant.

    I don’t mean to get us mired in a conversation about human nature because I think we both agree that religion is meant to restrain it – I just wanted to flesh my point out a little more.

    I would agree that it’s important to remember that God doesn’t need us to do anything (it is illogical that God would have needs – hence my issues with sacrificial concepts in the book of Genesis). Religious actions are for the benefit of the user.

  4. True, some people have the self-control, sense of justice and ability to let people go after being oppressed themselves by those they now oppress, but I would argue that most people … do not.

    True; this is another reason for Ramadan. Really, fasting in Islam is done more often than just for the month of Ramadan; that’s actually the minimum required. Muslims are encouraged (but not required) to fast additional days throughout the year, some of which have meaning (like fasting on the day of Ashura, which recently passed by) and some of which are done for personal reasons. Thus, Muslims receive annual training in self-control, which is a lot more than most non-Muslims can say.

    …one that has cost hundreds of billions of dollars, thousands more US lives, a loss of international respect and prestige and nearly NONE of the outcomes desired or demanded. Why?

    Because the US government isn’t guided by Islamic principles.

    I just think it will generally go unheaded and so that’s why it’s dangerous to authorize anything.

    I respect your opinion; I just don’t agree with it. Better, IMO, to have the authority to act when circumstances demand than not; those who transgress the boundaries will be questioned and judged in the afterlife, insha’allah.

  5. …those who transgress the boundaries will be questioned and judged in the afterlife, insha’allah.

    As I wrote this I thought of Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second caliph. He had once said, “If a sheep dies on the shore of the Euphrates I fear lest Allah ask me to account for it on the Day of Resurrection.”

    There’s also a hadith about him from his son that I find interesting; this is the second version of this I’ve read, although the two more or less give the same account:

    From `Abd Allah ibn `Umar: “[After `Umar’s death] I saw a palace in my sleep, and was told it belonged to `Umar ibn al-Khattab. Then I saw him come out of it, wearing a cover as if he had just bathed. I said: ‘How did you fare?’ He said: ‘Well, although I would have fallen from my place if I had not found a forgiving Lord.’ Then he asked: ‘How long since I have left you?’ I said: ‘Twelve years.’ He said: ‘I only just finished rendering account.’”

  6. Jay–You make a valid point that human nature is prone to excess. –That passion often overtakes reason. However–Islam is about balance. If the Quran were to advise “turn the other cheek”—human nature being what it is–it would be equally difficult to follow. On the other hand—a balanced application of justice has its benefits. For example—the war crimes tribunal—it serves the purpose of putting an ugly past behind and allows people to move on. Reconciliation and forgiveness become a little less difficult when justice is applied. But most importantly, when the fans of hate and revenge are cooled with the application of justice–people have the opportunity to turn back to spirituality.

    God has not made us all the same. We are all at different spiritual levels. Some people may take longer to understand the Quran (or Torah, Bible or other wisdom teachings) –some may not. But that is OK. It is all part of the “grand scheme”. All of us have a purpose. We learn lessons as we live. What we can do, is help each other be better human beings–to aspire for the nobility God created us for.(Surah 90)

    Human nature—Islam assumes that there is a core of goodness in each and every human being. (We are not born sinners). Thus we are inherently capable of good.
    So how is it that an “inherently good” human being can be evil? It has to do with the soul. We move away from spirituality by choosing to give in to “desires” passionate desires of hate, power, anger, greed…etc The more we give in to these desires —our (self) connection to spirituality lessens–and it becomes easier to give in to further temptations. The job of luring us into this path is that of Satan–but the choice is ours. In part, surah 91 is about this.

    Surah 91 (Micheal sells translation)
    By the Sun and her brightening
    By the Moon when it follows her
    By the day when it dispels her
    By the earth and what shaped her
    By the soul and what formed her
    and revealed her debased
    and revealed her faithful
    whoever honors her flourishes
    whoever defiles her fails…….

  7. “Turn the other cheek”—Islamic version—
    Surah 41–verse 34 “Nor can goodness and evil be equal. Repel (evil) with what is better: then will he between whom and you was hatred become as it were your friend and intimate ”
    Justice—The rights of the victims for justice should not be forgotten in our enthusiasm. On the other hand. If the victims of oppression or injustice were to choose to forgive—that is their right.
    Surah 42. verse 40-43
    40.The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto (in degree): But if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from God. For god loves not those who do wrong.
    41. But indeed if any do help and defend himself after a wrong (done) to him, against such is no cause of blame.
    42. The blame is only against those who oppress men with wrong-doing and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice: For such there will be a chastisement grievous.
    42. But indeed if any show patience and forgive, that would truly be an affair of great resolution.

    Because we are at different spiritual levels–not all of us are emotionally or spiritually capable of forgiveness without an application of justice– but those who are capable can choose this option.

    Lao Tzu in Tao te ching says “….Justice is an expression of Divinity. Divinity is oneness with Tao….”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: