Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 197-210 Speaks of Entropy and the Hajj

Verse 197 makes an important point (well, many, but I’ll touch on one). If you’re going to perform the pilgrimage, don’t be lustful or truculent and don’t sin. After all, what’s the point of pledging yourself to do something that God has commanded, a holy journey, both personal and sacred, if you’re going to be violating other elements of God’s law along the way. It’s almost a note against hypocrisy, a theme that comes up again later in these verses with the contentious man.

The next verses then run through some of the ceremonies performed on the hajj. Which steps are mentioned here and which are included? I know that there is a ceremony where stones are cast to represent the stones thrown at Satan by Abraham, and I don’t see that reference in here. Is that from another verse of the Quran or from other hadith? What else is missing?

The next verses (200-202) discuss a theme which, as we know, manifests often in the Quran, regarding people doing/believing as they should and getting just recompense. What made me smile was the end of verse 202, which notes God’s swift reckoning, I presume, when it comes time for one to be held accountable for his life and sins. What’s funny is that last week in the discussion that ensued, a quote was offered that mentioned how a man took 12 years to account for his life and sins. Considering His usual pace as stated here, perhaps God was like, “Come on, man, it’s okay that you left the sheep by the riverbank.” 🙂

God and Entropy

I find verse 205 fascinating when it says that God does not love disorder. As many of us learned in our high school physics classes, entropy (that is, randomness and disorder), is the way of things. As human beings we try to create order, whether through buildings with right angles, mowing lawns and planting gardens that if left untended will be overgrown by wilderness, stacking the glasses in our kitchen cabinets in a perfect line or anything else that we do. However, disorder is far easier to come by than order, which is quite logical if you think about it. The straighter you want that line of cups, the easier it is to mess it up, and the more options there are for it being messed up, whether a few cups being out of line, or the glasses getting shattered in an earthquake. This also reminds me of our discussion last week: human nature is also inherently disorderly, and that is why I find it so unlikely that people will cease oppressing within precisely the allowed time. As was argued, living life by the Quran -ideally – imposes that necessary order that ends oppression in an orderly fashion.

So, it’s fascinating that the Quran states that God does not love disorder because what is religion if an attempt to create order in a naturally disordered world? Religion is laws and rules and a way to live down to, in many cases (e.g. Judaism, Islam), the most minute details. That is an incredible amount of order imposed, as it were, from the ultimate force above: a force that loves order, yet interestingly, created a disorderly universe and then gave us a bunch of ways that it must be orderly. Both internally to religion this is interesting and in an anthropological sense as well. Religion is an attempt to create order in a world that generally lacks it.

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!

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The Cow 197-210

197. Known are the months of pilgrimage. If one resolves to perform the pilgrimage in these months, let him not indulge in concupiscence, sin or quarrel. And the good you do shall be known to God. Provide for the journey, and the best of provisions is piety. O men of understanding, obey Me. 198. It is no sin to seek the favors of your Lord (by trading). When you start from ‘Arafat in a concourse, remember God at the monument that is sacred (al-Mash ‘ar al-haram), and remember Him as He has shown you the way, and in the olden days you were a people astry. 199. Then move with the crowd impetuously, and pray God to forgive your sins. God is surely forgiving and kind. 200. When you have finished the rites and ceremonies, remember God as you do your fathers, in fact with a greater devotion. There are some who say: “Give us, O Lord, in the world;” but they will forego their share in the life to come. 201. But some there are who pray: “Give us of good in the world, O Lord, and give us of good in the life to come, and suffer us not to suffer the torment of Hell.” 202. They are those who will surely have their share of whatsoever they have earned; for God is swift at the reckoning. 203. Remember God during the stated days; but if a person comes away after two days, it will not be a sin; and if one tarries, he will not trangress, if he keep away from evil. Follow the law of God, and remember that you will have to gather before Him in the end. 204. There is a man who talks well of the world to your pleasing, and makes God witness to what is in his heart, yet he is most contentious; 205. For when his back is turned he goes about spreading disorder in the land, destroying fields and flocks; but God does not love disorder. 206. Whenever he is told: “Obey God,” his arrogance leads him to more sin; and sufficient for him shall be Hell: How evil a place of wide expanse! 207. And there is a man who is willing to sell even his soul to win the favor of God: and God is compassionate to His creatures. 208. O believers, come to full submission to God. Do not follow in the footsteps of Satan your acknowledged foe. 209. If you falter even after Our signs have reached you, then do not forget that God is all-powerful and all-wise. 210. Are they waiting for God to appear in the balconies of clouds with a host of angels, and the matter to be settled? But all things rest with God in the end.

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9 Responses

  1. What is the distinction between order and oppression in your mind? How is oppression not an attempt at order, and what does that say about the spiritual value of oppression?

  2. Funny that you should ask that, Mr. ClandestineKush. My allusion to a previous discussion was less than clear, and I should have directed my readers to the previous Wednesday’s Quran Read-A-Long discussion in which JDsg, Kay and I enjoyed a rousing conversation about oppression being permissible in certain circumstances (i.e. as retribution was like oppression). If you refer to this conversation then what follows will make more sense as I will expand on my sentence above.

    Human nature is disorderly. If person A is oppressed by person B, and person A becomes free and has the opportunity to oppress person B, then according to the Quran person A is allowed to do so in exact proportion to how he was oppressed. That is justice, and what the Quran is doing, I believe, is imposing order on an otherwise disorderly human nature that would not have been just in such a situation because, I believe, person A would be inclined to oppress person B more than a precisely equal amount because it is human nature to exact revenge of that sort in unequal proportions.

    My apologies that this seemed confusing based on the vaguery of my remarks above. This is what I meant but it obviously took a good deal of inference in addition to reading last week’s conversation to get it. Is it clearer now how I understand the relationship of order and oppression?

  3. Jay–I am glad you explained —-“Human nature is disorderly. If person A is oppressed by person B, and person A becomes free and has the opportunity to oppress person B, then according to the Quran person A is allowed to do so in exact proportion to how he was oppressed.”

    There might be a slight misunderstanding I think–when we talk of Law/Jurisprudence/Fiqh we are talking about judges, courts and witnesses. The application of justice demands its judicious use. The law of equality is mixed in with Ramadhan and Hajj and stuff which are Laws between Man and God. –and that may be why the confusion happened.—These laws have no courts or punishment because it is a matter between God and Man. They happen in the “private sphere”. Laws between Man and Man happen in the “public sphere”. As the American Declaration of Independence says—Mankind has certain “inalienable rights” and the right for justice is among them. Fiqh laws do not give one person the right to arbitrarily determine what is appropriate and take action—but he can argue for his position and justice will be determined by “due process”. Laws of jurisprudence are for restoring balance and justice in the community. (laws between man and God are for spiritual progress). At least, that is how the early jurists understood it. From Pre-Islamic times, there was already a system in place were disputes were decided/Judged by neutral arbitration. Prophet Muhammed(pbuh) was often called to arbitrate (before he became prophet) because he was an orphan and did not have strong tribal ties. Part of the confusion also comes from the translation. the use of the word “oppression” creates a misunderstanding–I think.

    will write more later……

  4. Thank you, Kay, but now I’m still a bit confused because I’m not sure if we’re talking about the same things. Generally, I understand the laws of legal jurisprudence (not the specifics obviously, just the way the system is intended to work), so my question is whether or not your mention of it has to do with this notion of one person oppressing (setting aside the translation difficulties) another in equal measure to his own oppression.

    I never really considered it form the point of jurisprudence – only a loftier notion of justice….cosmic justice if you will. That is to say that the imposition of justice, generally speaking, by religion (yes in a legal jurisprudence sense but also in a larger, the-way-the-world-works sense) by religion is designed to curb our human nature which otherwise compels us to do things more, shall we say, instinctively. And instinctively we are inclined to oppress (or do whatever to) someone far more than he oppressed us because we want to exact revenge – not perfect justice.

    As you and JDsg discussed last week, Islam is an attempt to instill in people the necessity not of acting in these extremes, but in tempering our lives with control, and in the example above, justice. That is, acting justly (equally) and only meting out on someone what he did to you.

    Is that right or are we talking about different things?
    Thanks again.

  5. I agree with Kay in that there’s a translation problem with respect to verse 2:205. Most of the translators I rely upon use “mischief” instead of “oppression” (Pickthall, Yusuf Ali, al-Hilali & Khan), whereas Asad uses “corruption.” Asad’s note 189 with respect to 2:205 is interesting; I’ve highlighted in bold the most important parts (IMO):

    Lit., “he hastens about the earth [or “strives on earth”] to spread corruption therein and to destroy tilth and progeny”. Most of the commentators see in this sentence an indication of a conscious intent on the part of the person thus described; but it is also possible that the particle li in li-yufsida (generally taken to mean “in order that he might spread corruption”) plays in this context the role of what the grammarians call a lam al-aqibah, “the [letter] lam used to denote a consequence” – i.e., regardless of the existence or non-existence of a conscious intent. (By rendering the sentence the way I do it, both possibilities are left open.) As regards the expression harth (rendered by me as “tilth”), its primary significance is “gain” or “acquisition” through labour; and thus it often signifies “worldly goods” (see Lane II, 542), and especially the crops obtained by tilling land, as well as the tilled land itself. If harth is understood in this context as “tilth”, it would apply, metaphorically, to human endeavours in general, and to social endeavours in particular. However, some commentators – basing their opinion on the Qur’anic sentence, “your wives are your tilth” (2:223) – maintain that harth stands here for “wives” (cf. Razi, and the philologist Al-Azhari, as quoted in ManarII, 248): in which case the “destruction of tilth and progeny” would be synonymous with an upsetting of family life and, consequently, of the entire social fabric. According to either of these two interpretations, the passage has the following meaning: As soon as the mental attitude described above is generally accepted and made the basis of social behaviour, it unavoidably results in widespread moral decay and, consequently, social disintegration. (Quran Ref: 2:205)

    Which, for me, answers ClandestineKush’s question, when he (she) asked: “What is the distinction between order and oppression in your mind?” Oppression (or mischief or corruption) is when actions taken, under either conscious or unconscious intent, result in moral decay and social disintegration. (However, I would also add that this is only one form of “oppression; e.g., how the Gazans have been treated by the Israelis over time is another form of oppression, and this is more in line with the more common definition for “oppression.”)

    How is oppression not an attempt at order…

    Based on Asad’s note, I’d say that “oppression” is the opposite of “order.”

    …and what does that say about the spiritual value of oppression?

    My first instinct would be to say that there’s no spiritual value to oppression, but I don’t think that’s really true. For the oppressor I don’t see where he or she gains any spiritual value from oppressing someone else. Quite the opposite actually. For those being oppressed, I believe that the oppression would be considered a test from Allah (swt) and so their spiritual benefit is based upon how well they stand up to the oppression. (Those who are oppressing are also being tested; by their act of oppression they are failing the test, IMO. Wa Allahu alim.)

  6. Yes–I figured I was going to confuse you, I did not communicate well—sorry about that–. You are correct that the Quran is about the soul(nafs) and how we can live on earth to benefit our souls at judgement–sort of–simplifying it a bit. So, most muslims who are not lawmakers, Judges or administrators will read the verses on “law” with that in mind. Which is why we were discussing the verses in terms of spiritual merits. However, the Medina verses were revealed at a time when a new muslim community was forming and the Question they are trying to answer is “how do we form a system in our society that is in line with “tawheed”/God-consiousness?” So these were real and practical problems that at the level of administration and governance—people were actually contemplating.(and here I am talking of all “Law” stuff that comes in later surahs as well). For most, these type of verses inform on the 1) rights of an individual/group, 2) the responsibilty of making choices 3) that these choices have consequences (for our soul). So, as JD was trying to explain–a person who is “wronged” has a right to justice. Thus if a wronged person asks for justice “in equal measure” to the wrong–it is not a sin. —ofcourse if a person forgives–there is more merit. In our present judicial system–the jury and judge decide on the punishment—but in the Quran–this right and the choice and its consequences is on the one who has been “wronged”.(I am generalizing) That is why the spiritual aspects of our decisions matter. So, although the Quran does try to “curb human nature” –it does so in a way that upholds justice so that the rights of a human being are also recognized.
    JD brought up another point which I would like to elaborate-
    To feel remorse for the crime and to fulfill the terms of the punishment is good for our minds and our soul. It is a chance for the person who has done wrong to move forward and choose to be better if they so wish. Judeo-Islamic thought does not view human nature as inherently corrupt—flawed yes–but not corrupt. So, we all have the potential to understand and choose the moral high ground.(and the Quran is meant as a reminder that we are innately capable of this) From an Islamic perspective (not in the Quran) we are all born “muslim”—that is–in a state of submission to God. As our “desires” and ego take over–we become removed from this state. (and by “we” –I mean soul/self)

    Order/disorder—The Quran does not view creation as disorderly—Many verses point to the balance and order in the universe and in nature. The Universe works on its own laws–if it did not–planets would be crashing into each other and there would be mayhem. Nature also has its own balance and laws–the ecosystems, the seasons and tides etc. (Yes –we have done our best to crash the system–but that is disorder created by man —not God).

    Is Islam a religion or “way of life”?–that has been debated. Though I prefer to view it as spiritual guidance—the Quran speaks on a wide range of subjects from Law, bussiness, economics, war, science/nature, death, soul, spirituality ….etc. This makes it difficult to “pigeonhole” the Quran. The guidance of the Quran is not just meant as an ideal theory but is also meant to be applied and practiced in our everyday lives to the best of our abilities.

    Not sure if I got my point across–so please ask if you need to.

  7. @ Kay: From an Islamic perspective (not in the Quran) we are all born “muslim”—that is–in a state of submission to God.

    Actually, it is in the Qur’an. The following is from a post I wrote back in October 2007 about conversion vs. reversion:

    The Qur’an states that mankind was brought forth before Allah (swt) long before we were born. In one particular passage, it is said that mankind swore an oath confirming that Allah (swt) is the one God:

    “When thy Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves, (saying): ‘Am I not your Lord (who cherishes and sustains you)?’- They said: ‘Yea! We do testify!’ (This), lest ye should say on the Day of Judgment: ‘Of this we were never mindful’: Or lest ye should say: ‘Our fathers before us may have taken false gods, but we are (their) descendants after them: wilt Thou then destroy us because of the deeds of men who were futile?'” (7:172-3)

    Is Islam a religion or “way of life”?–that has been debated.

    Oh, it’s definitely a way of life. 🙂

  8. JD–thanks for the correction as well as the quote.

    Islam is way of life?–Yes–being muslim demands a lifestyle that reflects its values–but it also demands a state of mind that reflects its principles?

  9. …but it also demands a state of mind that reflects its principles?

    Yes, IMO, because I don’t think you can live the lifestyle without having the state of mind first. From a practical perspective, I find that while living in this Muslim community, Islam is very rarely away from my mind (and that of my wife’s). Even in watching TV shows, we frequently discuss topics brought up on the show with respect to how they relate to Islam. Or, for example, we might have a conversation while driving about certain aspects of Islam and Muslim life that pertain to us and others. And if you can’t follow (or at least believe in) the principles, how can you live the lifestyle?

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